Thursday, November 3, 2011

Savoy Ballroom

The Savoy Ballroom, located in Harlem, New York City, was a medium sized ballroom for music and public dancing that was in operation from March 12, 1926 to July 10, 1958. It was located between 140th and 141st Streets on Lenox Avenue. -

The Savoy was a popular dance venue from the late 1920s to the 1950s and many dances such as Lindy Hop became famous here. It was known downtown as the "Home of Happy Feet" but uptown, in Harlem, as "the Track". Unlike the 'whites only' policy of the Cotton Club, the Savoy Ballroom was integrated where white and black Americans danced together. Virtuosic dancers, however, excluded others from the northeast corner of the dance floor, now referred to as the "Cat's Corner," a term not used at the time.

A famous "Battle of the Bands" or "cutting contest" happened when the Benny Goodman Orchestra [Gene Krupa on the drums (addition mine)] challenged Chick Webb in 1937. Webb and his band were declared the winners of that contest.

And in 1938 Count Basie Band did the same (earlier evening it had performed with Goodman at his famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert). While Webb was officially declared the winner, there was a lack of consensus on who actually won that night.

The ballroom was on the second floor and a block long. It had a double bandstand that held one large and one medium sized band running against its east wall. Music was continuous as the alternative band was always in position and ready to pick up the beat when the previous one had completed its set. The Savoy was unique in having the constant presence of a skilled elite of the best Lindy Hoppers. Usually known as "Savoy Lindy Hoppers" occasionally they turned professional, such as Whitey's Lindy Hoppers and performed in Broadway and Hollywood productions.

Chick Webb was the leader of the best known Savoy house band during the mid-1930s. A teenage Ella Fitzgerald, fresh from a talent show win at the Apollo Theater in 1934, became its vocalist.


"Stompin' at the Savoy", a 1934 Big Band classic song and jazz standard, was named after the ballroom. It was composed by Edgar Sampson. Although the song is credited to Benny Goodman, Chick Webb, and Edgar Sampson, and the lyrics by Andy Razaf, in reality the music was written and arranged for Chick Webb's band by Sampson, who was the band's alto saxophonist. It was recorded as an instrumental by both Webb and Goodman, whose recording was the bigger hit. Lyrics were added by Andy Razaf, who wrote the lyrics to many popular songs. Goodman and Webb got their names added to the song when their bands recorded it.

Here is a clip about the Savoy Ballroom from the new feature film: "THE SAVOY KING: Chick Webb and the Music That Changed America" []:

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