Chick Webb's brief,
inspiring life illuminates the society-changing power of music, the
life-lifting effect of mentoring, a hard-fought breakthrough in racial
understanding that reverberates today in many ways, and the ability of everyone
to reach beyond their apparent limits.
The Savoy King: Chick
Webb and the Music That Changed America weaves together stories from remarkable people who knew Chick at
every phase of his life, with quotes from some of the greatest figures in Jazz
history. Bill Cosby voices the words of Chick Webb, and the film also
features Janet Jackson as Ella Fitzgerald, John Legend as Duke Ellington, Andy
Garcia as Mario Bauza, Jeff Goldblum as Artie Shaw, Danny Glover as Count
Basie, Tyne Daly as publicist Helen Oakley Dance, Ron Perlman as Gene Krupa,
Billy Crystal as Mezz Mezzrow, New Orleans musician Bruce 'Sunpie' Barnes as
Barney Bigard, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as Dizzy Gillespie, Harlem Arts Alliance
director Voza Rivers as Sandy Williams, Washington Post columnist Eugene
Robinson as Teddy McRae, Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts as writer Stanley
Dance, and Rocky Carroll of NCIS as the narrator (based on press accounts of
Editing is completed;
this funding will cover finishing costs (sound design, color correction, and
final footage rights), plus support film festival outreach.
Music and film critic
Gary Giddins wrote, "The Savoy King is a wonderful film – dynamic and true to the spirit
of its subject. The editing is so deft, the story moves so well, and the
heroic figure at the center is intrinsically fascinating. If Chick Webb's
life had been a novel, filmmakers would have lined up to option it.
Through genius and a fabled will, Chick became a true titan in American
music. In telling this remarkable story of an indispensable man, Jeff
Kaufman has made one of the great musical documentaries of our
Home of the amazing
Lindy Hop dancers, The Savoy Ballroom was the first musical venue in America
where Blacks and Whites could socialize together. It had a huge, but
largely unheralded, social impact. Born fatherless and poor, Chick
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'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 (with Bille Holiday) in
legendary battle of the bands, befriended Afro-Cuban Jazz pioneer Mario Bauza,
encouraged a struggling Dizzy Gillespie, and helmed the first Black band to
host a national radio show (two decades before Nat King Cole broke the color
barrier on television) . . . all before drumming himself to death at age 30.
The Savoy King features
newly filmed interviews, dancing, and a bit of singing with: drummers Louie Bellson and Roy Haynes, trumpeter Joe Wilder, playwright-actress Gertrude Jeannette (a good
friend of Chick's, she was also at Ella's debut Apollo Theater Amateur Night
performance), Swing dance masters Frankie Manning and Norma Miller, Ella's son Ray Brown Jr., Savoy Ballroom owner Moe Gale's son Dr. Richard Gale, Harlem Rens
basketball star John Isaacs, composer-arranger Van Alexander (co-writer of A-Tisket, A-Tasket), longtime
Harlem physician Dr. Muriel Petioni ("The Mother of Harlem
Medicine"), Chick's childhood friend Rev. Edward Wilson, and Chick's nephew Brad Rowe.
This is a divisive time,
but as Muriel Petioni says in the film, "In spite of ourselves, I think
music is the thing that really binds us.
Music is a universal combiner." The Savoy King has a rare mission to enrich and move
people on several levels. Your
support will be much appreciated.