Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Day 5 NYFF50: Singing Praises of Unsung Hero in ‘The Savoy King’

WITH such a synopsis, who wouldn’t want to watch:

The Savoy Ballroom was the home of the amazing Lindy Hop dancers, and the first venue in America where Blacks and Whites could dance and socialize together. It had a huge, but largely unheralded social impact. Born fatherless and poor, Chick Webb broke his back, developed spinal tuberculosis, and was a hunchbacked dwarf in constant pain, yet he virtually invented modern drumming and built the hottest band of the 1930s (it was the Savoy Ballroom’s “house band”). Chick was mentored by Duke Ellington, toured with Louis Armstrong, argued with Jelly Roll Morton, jammed with Artie Shaw, married a beautiful dancer, discovered and practically adopted Ella Fitzgerald, beat Benny Goodman and Count Basie in legendary battle of the bands, befriended Mario Bauzá (“The Father of Afro-Cuban Jazz”), groomed and then fired Louis Jordan (the founder of Rhythm & Blues), encouraged a struggling Dizzy Gillespie, and helmed the first Black band to host a national radio show…all before drumming himself to death at age 30.

And that’s the way it was for Chick, according to Jeff Kaufman's story. This Renaissance Man is the subject of JK's “The Savoy King: Chick Webb and the Music that Changed America,” about the Baltimore boy who made an indelible and largely unheralded impact on American music and ethnic relations during his time at the helm of a jazz orchestra – the house band – at Harlem's heralded Savoy Ballroom. It has its second and final showing at the 50th New York Film Festival this afternoon at 3:30. (See trailer above)

Ella Fitzgerald and the Chick Webb jazz orchestra at the Savoy Ballroom. Photo courtesy of "The Savoy King" Web site.

Lots of archival footage in “The Savoy King,” plus new interviews with Roy Haynes and others. Providing the voices of many of the players in this saga, which lends the documentary a sense of immediacy, is a formidable roster of names. It includes Bill Cosby as Chick, Janet Jackson as Ella, John Legend as Duke, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as Dizzy, Billy Crystal as Mezz Mezzrow, Tyne Daly as Helen Oakley Dance, Voza Rivers as Sandy Williams, and Andy Garcia as Mario.

JK will participate in a Q&A after the screening of “The Savoy King: Chick Webb and the Music that Changed America.”

Visit http://www.filmlinc.com/ to learn more about the 50th New York Film Festival, including show times and ticket information.

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