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A feature documentary on drummer-bandleader Chick Webb, Ella Fitzgerald, and Harlem's Savoy Ballroom, with Bill Cosby and Janet Jackson

A feature documentary on drummer-bandleader Chick Webb, Ella Fitzgerald, and Harlem's Savoy Ballroom, with Bill Cosby and Janet Jackson Read More
pledged of $12,000 goal
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Funding Unsuccessful

This project's funding goal was not reached on October 18, 2011.

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About this project

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 the time).

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 time." 

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.


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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $100 or more
    About $100 USD

    18 backers

    Advance DVD, CD of rare 1939 radio broadcast with Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald, and signed Savoy King poster

    Estimated delivery:
  2. Select this reward

    Pledge $1,000 or more
    About $1,000 USD

    1 backer

    Advance DVD, CD of rare 1939 radio broadcast with Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald, and signed Savoy King poster. PLUS:

    A photograph autographed by Swing dance master Norma Miller, known to many as The Queen of Swing. Her still active career ranges from the early 1930s, to today.

    A photo signed by Van Alexander, bandleader, arranger, and co-writer of "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" (with Ella Fitzgerald). The photograph is of a March 14,1937 jam session at the Brunswick recording studio in New York. Chick Webb is on drums, Artie Shaw on clarinet, and Duke Ellington is at the piano. Van stanfs next to Chick, and near him is Helen Oakley Dance and Stanley Dance. All are featured in The Savoy King.

    Estimated delivery:

Funding period

- (30 days)