Chick Webb – The Epitome of Swing

SKF NOTE: Dan Morganstern was a dominant voice among jazz journalists when I was growing up. Whether he was writing in Down Beat magazine, in album liner notes, or in books, Mr. Morgenstern was always teaching about music and musicians.

I spotted this Chick Webb record review a few days ago written by Morgenstern 52 years ago. The insightful observations of Webb’s drumming are, I felt, worth passing along.

Reading this review I could hear Charlie Watts talking during my interview with him about Webb. He said, I mean, if Buddy Rich thought Chick Webb was great — how great was he? Great point.

Of course, none of use heard Chick Webb live. His recordings lack the clarity of modern recordings — but so what? When I first heard these records, and other Chick Webb records, I was amazed at how well they do sound.

And as Dan Morgenstern points out, Chick Webb can “be felt throughout” his records.


February 22, 1968
Down Beat Old Wine – New Bottles Record Review
by Dan Morgenstern

Chick Webb: A Legend (Vol.1: 1929-36); (Decca 9223)
Chick Webb: King of the Savoy (Vol. 2: 1937-39); (Decca DL 9223)

The two Chick Webb LP’s are almost worth the price for Stanley Dance’s detailed and fascinating resume of the valiant little drummer’s short and eventful life.

…Volume 2 has the better reproduction of the drum parts and the bulk of the infrequent Webb solo flights.

Webb’s drumming was the epitome of swing, and he was a master at playing with a big band (or more accurately, making a big band play). Harlem Congo (on Vol.2) is perhaps the most stunning representation of his art, both in driving the band, feeding the soloists, and taking solos (his short feature spot is fantastic; only Buddy Rich could get all over the drums like that, and he is not a 4’1″ hunchback).

Other drumming gems are Liza and Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie…. His brushwork can be fully appreciated in the chamber setting of I Got Rhythm by Chick Webb’s Little Chicks…. But the drummer can be felt throughout.

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