Have you ever witnessed a jam? Not the mellow birthday or out-of-towners kind of jam, but the kind where a circle will suddenly clear on the dance floor and couple after couple will take turns in the spotlight, showing off their best moves?
If you haven’t seen a jam, you need to keep your ears perked and your eyes open. Jams usually happen because a song comes on that is just so hot, fast, and swingin’ that everyone knows it’s time to clear out and throw down. Did a bunch of people just stop dancing and start running? Follow them, there’s probably a jam starting (or a fire, but in either case it’s usually best to follow the running crowd).
If you have seen a jam or two, then you’ve likely noticed that certain songs are particularly jam-worthy. In my humble experience, the two most common jam-starting songs are Count Basie’s “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” — come on now, it’s the lindy hoppers’ anthem — and the aptly named “Lindyhopper’s Delight” by Chick Webband His Orchestra.
Strictly speaking in beats per minute, compared to other jam standards, “Lindyhopper’s Delight” isn’t very fast — but the rhythm section chugga-chugga-chugs along, driving that pulse into your head and your feet. In short, “Lindyhopper’s Delight” swings. Don’t let the tempo fool you; it’s a song that packs a punch. Come to think of it, “packs a punch” is a great way to describe Chick Webb himself.
William Henry Webb was born in Baltimore, Maryland on February 10, 1905 (although sources vary anywhere from 1902 to 1909). He suffered from congenital tuberculosis of the spine, leaving him short-statured and hunchbacked for the rest of his life. As a boy he worked delivering newspapers, saving up enough money to buy a set of drums. By age 11 he was playing professionally, and by 1926 he was leading a band in Harlem, New York. Chick quickly became recognized as one of the era’s foremost drummers and bandleaders, with his orchestra becoming the Savoy Ballroom’s house band in 1931. The Savoy often held contests, called “The Battle of the Bands,” which would pit a guest band against Chick and his orchestra. Head-to-head even with the likes of Benny Goodman and Count Basie, Chickalways won the audience’s favor. Alas, Chick could not escape his condition, and in 1938 began experiencing health problems. He insisted on playing through the pain and fatigue, often passing out after sets, because he wanted to keep his band members working through the Depression. Following a serious surgical procedure, he passed away on June 16, 1939. Chick’s last words were reportedly, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to go.”
Chick Webb was known for his powerful, thundering drumming style, his outstanding technique, and his wide dynamic range. As you can hear in “Lindyhopper’s Delight,” his orchestra was marked by crisp sound over a relentlessly driving rhythm. Although he could not read music, he flawlessly memorized arrangements, and is recognized as one of the first purveyors of “swing.” He discovered and featured a teenage Ella Fitzgerald, who took over the band after Chick’s death until 1942.Chick’s sound directly influenced Art Blakey, Duke Ellington, and Buddy Rich. Gene Krupa, who rose to fame drumming for Benny Goodman and later started his own band, credited Chick Webb with bringing drummers and drummer-led bands into the spotlight.
As I find is always the case when it comes to all things swing-related, Frankie says it best. Check out this great snippet about Chick Webb from Ken Burns’ “Jazz” documentary. It features two iconic lindy hoppers, Frankie Manning and Norma Miller, talking about the night Chick Webb and His Orchestra took on Benny Goodman at the Savoy. In this clip you can actually listen to the two bands playing the same song — did Chick outswing Benny? You decide!
For your additional viewing pleasure:
I just have to share this clip from 1929; it features Chick Webb’s music with dancing by George “Shorty” Snowden (that’s right, Shorty George). Watch it and you’ll basically see the very beginnings of Lindy Hop from Charleston and Breakaway.
9:20 Special Performance Class
When I first started lindy hopping, someone showed me this video of none other than Kevin St. Laurent and Carla Heiney doing a demo routine to a shorter edit of “Lindyhopper’s Delight.” I have to admit it was this video that introduced me to the song. Whenever I dance to “Lindyhopper’s Delight” now, I still steal moves from this choreography.
For your listening pleasure:
- “A-Tisket, A-Tasket”
- “The Dipsy Doodle” : Known to some as “the song you Tranky Doo to.”
- “Harlem Congo” : So fast it hurts!
- “Liza” : Chick did not solo very often, but many say his solo in this song trumps that of Gene Krupa’s on “Sing, Sing, Sing.”
- “Stompin’ at the Savoy”
- “T’ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)” : Known to some as “the song you Shim Sham to.”
- “Who Ya’ Hunchin’”