The Savoy King: Chick Webb & the Music That Changed America
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Directed by:Jeff Kaufman
Released: 2022 (educational)
Year of Production: 2017
Running Time: 60 min
Subtitle Options: English Closed Captions
Subjects: African American Studies, Race Power and Privilege, Music
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. Born fatherless and poor, Chick Webb developed spinal tuberculosis and was a hunchbacked dwarf in constant pain, yet he virtually invented modern drumming and built the hottest Swing orchestra of the 1930s - the "house band" of The Savoy Ballroom. Chick was mentored by Duke Ellington, toured with Louis Armstrong, argued with Jelly Roll Morton, jammed with Artie Shaw, discovered and practically adopted Ella Fitzgerald, beat Benny Goodman (with Gene Krupa) and Count Basie (with Billie Holiday) in legendary battle of the bands, befriended Mario Bauzá ("The Father of Afro-Cuban Jazz"), fired R&B pioneer Louis Jordan for trying to steal away Ella, 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.
With Corey Hawkins as the voice of Chick Webb, John Legend as Duke Ellington, and Janet Jackson as Ella Fitzgerald, plus Sunpie Barnes, Rocky Carroll, Billy Crystal, Tyne Daly, Keith David, Andy Garcia, Danny Glover, Jeff Goldblum, Ron Perlman, Billy Porter, Voza Rivers, Eugene Robinson, and Charlie Watts. Featuring interviews, singing and dancing with drumming legends Louie Bellson and Roy Haynes, Swing dance masters Frankie Manning and Norma Miller, trumpeter Joe Wilder, playwright-actress Gertrude Jeannette, Harlem Rens basketball star John Isaacs, Ella's son Ray Brown, Jr., and composer / arranger Van Alexander ("A Tisket, A Tasket”).
"This jubilant documenatary captures Jazz Age excitement.” - Variety
"The Savoy King is an important contribution to our knowledge and our history." - Harry Belfonte
“The Savoy King is enjoyable and convincing . . . the vibrant doc is rewarding for any Swing fan.” - Hollywood Reporter
About the filmmaker
Jeff Kaufman produced, directed, and wrote the Emmy-nominated American Masters documentary “Terrence McNally: Every Act Of Life” (with Angela Lansbury, Meryl Streep, and Bryan Cranston), and the Critic’s Choice-nominated “Nasrin” (narrated by Olivia Colman). Other documentaries include “The Savoy King” (with John Legend, Janet Jackson, Billy Crystal, and Jeff Goldblum), “The State Of Marriage” (with Rep. John Lewis), “40 Million: The Struggle For Women’s Rights in Iran,” (for Time Magazine), “Father Joseph,” and “Brush With Life,” plus several short films with Amnesty International. He also contributed cartoons to The New Yorker and illustrations to The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, wrote/illustrated several children's books, and hosted a live daily radio talk show.