In 1934, Ella Fitzgerald was a homeless teenager on the streets of Harlem with an incredible voice – she was discovered at the Apollo Theater’s famous amateur night that year and was quickly picked up by drumming powerhouse Chick Webb to perform in his orchestra. Chick Webb’s band was the most prominent of the house bands at the Savoy Ballroom, one of New York’s largest ballrooms, the only integrated ballroom in New York, and the birthplace of Lindy Hop. Before she was the First Lady of Song, Ella honed her skills as a big band singer with some of New York’s top working jazz musicians of the 1930’s.
April 25, 2017 marks Ella’s 100th birthday and, as a centennial tribute, a group of Triangle musicians has come together to celebrate her early work with the Chick Webb Orchestra and, in the years following Chick Webb’s death in 1939 at the height of the orchestra’s fame, leading the orchestra under her own name – Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra.
Come see the show on April 23, 2017 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Sharp Nine Gallery/Durham Jazz Workshop, 4608 Industry Lane, Suite L, Durham, NC – tickets are $20.00 and you can purchase them at the Sharp Nine Gallery website.
Laura Windley – vocals
Kobie Watkins – drums
Jim Crew – piano
Peter Kimosh – bass
Chip Newton – guitar
Keenan McKenzie – reeds
Aaron Hill – reeds
Dan Hitchcock – reeds
Taylor Savage – reeds
Lucian Cobb – trombone
Evan Ringel – trombone
Jim Ketch – trumpet
Kyle Santos – trumpet
Paul Rogers – trumpet
Here it is, 3 sets (and two encores!) of Chick Webb music in all its glory at Lindy Focus 2016! As with any tribute, we hope that the band was able to capture the magic of a night at the Savoy Ballroom, with the most famous of the Savoy’s house bands. Much love to everyone who contributed to the transcription project to make this dream a reality!
Swing bandleader Glenn Crytzer wanted to do something to make a difference, so he had this idea of a compilation album of modern day swing and traditional jazz bands coming together to contribute music to benefit the American Civil Liberties Union. After reaching out to 16 bands (including the Mint Julep Jazz Band!), fundraising, organizing the production of this album, and getting the blessing of the ACLU, the album is ready for purchase! Pick up a copy of That New Old Sound on Bandcamp, either digital or physical, and if you order by December 17, he’ll ship it to you in time for Christmas – an extra $2.00 and he’ll even gift wrap it for you. All the proceeds from the sale of this album go to the ACLU to support the defense and preservation of civil liberties
I am excited to be a part of this compilation album, a great gift idea for any jazz lover or to give someone as a sampler of what’s going on with early jazz today, and to do a small part to contribute to the greater good.
One of my favorite swing era bandleaders is Chick Webb, the king of the Savoy Ballroom and jazz drumming trailblazer, who incidentally hired my favorite jazz vocalist, Ella Fitzgerald, for her first gig as the “girl singer” in his band. Chick Webb left this planet too early in 1939 and his legacy of songs lives in the recordings we listen and dance to, but the book of his arrangements is long gone. Seeing a need and an opportunity to bring this music to life again, Michael and Jaya Gamble spearheaded an IndieGoGo campaign to raise money to transcribe 33 Chick Webb arrangements and make them available to the public following transcription and performance at Lindy Focus 2016. The crowd funding goal of $17,000 was met in less than 24 hours and the swing dance community’s love and adoration of Chick Webb’s music is evident in this feat!
On December 29, 2016, the fruits of these labors will come to fruition in a performance of these transcribed Chick Webb charts, with Jonathan Stout leading the change with his Lindy Focus All Star Orchestra and I am beyond any measure of excited to be performing Ella Fitzgerald’s vocal tunes. There is so much love in this project, so many people who want to share in this experience on many levels, it’s almost overwhelming for me to think about. It’s all summarized here on the Lindy Focus page dedicated to this project, detailing the helpers, the backers, the list of songs and people who sponsored them, and the excitement continues to build up to the performance and, for some, the release of these charts so that other bands may carry this music into the future and perform it for an even bigger audience.
I am honored to be a part of the team putting all of this together, both as vocalist and working on the copyright aspects of the project. Cheers to you all, I hope to see you on December 29 in Asheville!
My friend Ethan Uslan, he of the ragtime/old time/stride piano playing World Champion fame, received a grant from the North Carolina Arts Council and the Mecklenburg Arts Council to produce a podcast on ragtime and early jazz piano, which he has named The Carolina Shout. Over the summer when the Mint Julep Jazz Band performed in Charlotte, I stopped by Ethan’s house and recorded two duets with Ethan that now appear on episodes 3 and 5 of his podcast. All 10 episodes are available on iTunes, Stitcher, or via his website, and are chock full of Ethan’s humor, wit, early jazz knowledge, and his ebullient piano performances. If your day needs a pick-me-up, this is where to get it!
A couple of years ago my friend Peter Lamb of Peter Lamb and the Wolves invited me and Lucian Cobb to contribute a track to a bootleg album, featuring many local North Carolina musicians collaborating with his band, to be released as a reward for his second album’s Kickstarter. Fast forward to this year and Peter Lamb decided that the album was too good to be kept a secret and has released the bootleg as a bona fide album, Carolina Tiger Milk. Lucian did the arrangement and trombone performance on the track “I’m Evil” and yours truly provided the vocals for this Una Mae Carlisle cover. You can pick up a copy of the album on iTunes or wherever the Wolves are performing.
I’m excited to share with you two videos from the Nevermore Jazz Ball 2016 this past weekend in St. Louis, one of the encore/jam circle from the Saturday night dance at the historic Casa Loma Ballroom, with the band killing it on “Your Mother’s Son-In-Law” and the other of a beautiful new-to-me song, “It’s Like Reaching for the Moon.” Thanks so much to Voon Chew for capturing these moments on film and to Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders for inviting me to be a part of the action! Enjoy!
Be sure to pick up a copy of Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders new self-titled debut album, featuring some of my favorite swing jazz musicians and yours truly. We recorded this album right after Lindy Focus in Asheville, NC at Isis Music Hall – we were all in town, so why not record an album? You can find me on 4 tracks on the album, but if you purchase the album through iTunes you get bonus tracks, including another vocal tune! I am so fortunate to have opportunities to record and perform, both through my own band and with Michael, and for this I am truly grateful, and grateful for all the support we have received from the swing dance community, who make all of these musical endeavors possible.
We’ll be opening the Rolling Sculpture: Art Deco Cars from the 1930s and ’40s exhibit with a soiree on September 29 featuring food, cocktails, and hot jazz amongst the rolling sculptures featured in the exhibit. Band plays from 6:45 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. This is the first of many cool events surrounding this exhibit, check out the NCMA Rolling Sculpture exhibit webpage to see what’s in store in the coming months!