Chick Webb & Ella Fitzgerald Decca Sessions (1934-41) (#252)

Mosaic Records Limited Edition Box Set


Chick Webb & Ella Fitzgerald Decca Sessions (1934-41) (#252)
"If the old New Orleans drummers had given jazz its first pulse, it was Chick Webb who gave the music its first taste of raw, sovereign power from the drum chair. After years in the shadows, the drums suddenly pushed front and center with the big swing bands. But even before swing took the national stage, Webb had become the first great drummer-bandleader to saturate a spotlight with star power and charisma." - John McDonough
Limited Edition: 5,000 copies

8 CDs -  $136.00


He Was The King. She Was The Queen
And This Was Their Reign
Presenting Chick Webb And Ella Fitzgerald

Imagine listening from your fire escape on a stifling summer evening, dreaming about what it was like inside 596 Lenox Avenue. Maybe you scraped together the entry fee - anywhere from 35 to 85 cents, depending on the night - and found yourself on the staircase to the second floor, pulled upstairs by the whoosh of sound. The pink walls. Bouncers in tuxedos. And a floor that sprung to thousands of feet.

It's all gone. But the music that was the root of everything magical and life-affirming at The Savoy Ballroom -- the music of Chick Webb featuring his discovery, Ella Fitzgerald -- is still here and utterly glorious.

A Major Retrospective. And A Surprising Discovery.

Mosaic Records' new release, The Complete Chick Webb & Ella Fitzgerald Decca Sessions (1934-1941) is the most complete collection ever of this incredibly important collaboration between the man who was the first "voice" on drums and the unassuming teenage girl who would blossom into the most revered vocalist in music.

Too easily and too often, music of the swing era is disregarded as being "for dancers." Chick and Ella made sure it was for listeners as well. But what's more, Chick's decision to take his unheard-of power, and his orchestra's great musicianship, and lay it all at the feet of a masterful vocalist, made sure his music would be for the ages.

Many Regard Him As The Greatest Drummer Of All Time

All that Chick accomplished was even more amazing given his personal history. He suffered spinal tuberculosis as a child, which left him hunchbacked, small, and stiff his whole life. In fact, playing the drums to loosen up was a suggestion from a doctor who treated him. He purchased his first trap set with earnings from his childhood paper delivery job, and was already playing professionally at 11.

But when Chick Webb was on that elevated platform at the Savoy Ballroom, at the center of the band, the spectators were in for a show. Not only was he simply sensational at tying the band together, he produced a sound no one before him ever achieved because of his rigorous attention to the pitch and attack of each component of his set. He endlessly tuned and tightened the heads on his drums, replacing them at the first sign of wear. His blazing solos were a palette of color and accent incorporated by a blend of cow bell, woodblock and ideally placed rim shots.

Drummers before him were more typically timekeepers. Chick created personality on his instrument through his use of subtle phrasing techniques and dynamics. His power was a needed component in that cavernous dancehall and its famed cutting contests. But it was also an outward expression of his uncontainable spirit.

Ella's Gifts.

The set also reveals why tributes to Ella's talent are so common and so eloquent, from fans, to critics, to her peers.

From the beginning, when she was shy and naïve, Ella projected schoolgirl warmth along with her unerring feel for jazz, moving musicians whose talent was far more road-tested than hers. Just a few years later, she was secure and serene with exceptional timing, unerring pitch, and musicianship that established her as part of the band, not merely a singer supported by it.

A Spectacular Band. And A Joyous One.

As a bandleader whose primary role was to keep the patrons flowing in and the Lindy legs flying through the air, Chick had one goal as The King of the Savoy - to build the best orchestra anyone had ever assembled. Over the years it included Edgar Sampson (who was also one of the band's full-time arrangers), Taft Jordan, Sandy Williams, Bobby Stark, John Kirby, Johnny Hodges, Louis Jordan, Hilton Jefferson, Wayman Carver, Ram Ramirez, Eddie Barefield, John Trueheart, Benny Carter, Mario Bauza, Pete Clark, and many others.

While Chick wisely turned the band's attention to serving Ella Fitzgerald after she joined him, cuts like "Harlem Congo," "Liza," and "Clap Hands! Here Comes Charley!" give testament to what was so thrilling about Chick's drive, his star quality, and the variety of nuance and tone he could produce on drums.

Everything You Expect From Mosaic Records

The Mosaic set is generous, with eight CDs featuring 187 tracks, three of them never before issued in any format. It includes the Webb band recordings done for Brunswick and Vocalion prior to the formation of Decca, which helps to present a more comprehensive appreciation of his Savoy Ballroom era.

The one surviving member of the group is arranger Van Alexander, and we were fortunate to enlist his spectacular memory in cleaning up the discography from these sessions by correcting many past mistakes and discrepancies.

We've gone back and sourced the best quality master or physical item obtainable, whether that be from mint 78s to vinyl test pressings. Liner notes are by John McDonough and Mosaic's exclusive booklet includes many rarely-seen photographs.

You'll never get closer to the wonder that was The Savoy Ballroom than this set. But as always, our release is strictly limited. Please order yours so that you don't miss out.

Read More About EllaFitzgerald:
Track Listing, Personnel & Recording Dates »

"Unlike any other singer you could name, Fitzgerald has the most amazing asset in the very sound of her voice: it's easily one of the most beautiful and sonically perfect sounds known to man. Even if she couldn't do anything with it, the instrument that Fitzgerald starts with is dulcet and pure and breathtakingly beautiful." - Will Friedwald

  • Booklet
  • Audio Quality
  • Photography
  • Sample Session Notes
Our liner note writer for the Webb/Fitzgerald set is John McDonough. John is no stranger to those who have enjoyed our Mosaic booklets. He has been an insider writing many fine liner notes, Down Beat articles, Wall Street Journal features and countless other critiques since the 1960s and his passion, knowledge and readability are considered hallmarks of his talent. He takes us through the days of the Savoy Ballroom, the super-stardom rise of Ella Fitzgerald and the musical brilliance and tragic death of Chick Webb that has rarely been traced.

The sources used for our Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald Decca sessions came from a variety of mint condition 78 rpm releases that were obtained mostly by the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University and Belgian collector Leon Dierckx. One disc that comes to mind was an absolutely pristine copy of a 12” Australian Decca of “Hallelujah” and “I Want To Be Happy”. It looked like it was pressed yesterday and is the sort of thing collectors drool over. In fact, many of the sources were from those Australian Deccas which differ greatly from American sources in that the shellac used was of a finer grade almost laminated like American Columbia 78s were. Steven Lasker also provided us with some fine sides including the rare Vocalion 1607 with “Heebie Jeebie” and “Soft And Sweet”. Test pressings from the late John R.T. Davies collection in England were also used to great advantage. A list of all sources is supplied at the end of the discography in our booklet.

Photo Copyright © Protected
The photographs seen in our Chick and Ella package came from various sources. Duncan Schiedt provided us with some wonderful photos, but the cream of the photos come from Michael Randolph whose father, professionally and affectionately known as PoPsie, was one of the greatest of all jazz photographers. His images of the Webb band at the Paramount Theater in New York are of the highest quality and many are seen here for the first time. There is also a wonderful photo of Chick alongside the guru of cymbal makers, Avedis Zildjian III at the Zildjian factory in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1938 which was loaned to us by the Zildjian company.

June 2, 1936

Before the band left the Savoy for a tour that would extend to Chicago, it recorded five sides, including a make up version of the Love, You’re Just A Laugh which was promptly issued. We also get a Webb instrumental of Go Harlem, a commercial version of the same Edgar Sampson arrangement he recorded in February for World Transcriptions under the pseudonym of “Chuck Warner and his Orchestra.”

Although the song was said to have been written for a Broadway show by James P. Johnson and Andy Razaf, no standard Broadway reference source lists any Johnson show after Messin’ Around, which closed after 33 performances in 1929 and did not involve Razaf or this song. Whatever its source, Johnson and Razaf recorded it in 1931, after which Webb picked it up. The form is a bit unusual, with the bridge coming after the first eight bars. But it’s the kind of simple riff-based line that was Sampson’s specialty. Teddy McRae makes his solo bow on tenor, and Webb offers a few brief flourishes at the end on his array of cow bells.

The rest of the session was Ella’s. In March and April 1936 the whole country was talking – and arguing – about what one NBC commentator called “American’s most controversial new music.” That would be swing, and magazines from Down Beat to the Literary Digest were taking notice of the new fad. It was also being noticed by song writers and publishers eager to reflect and capitalize on the craze.

Hoagy Carmichael’s Sing Me A Swing Song was one in a cluster of such “swing” tunes that appeared in the winter and spring of 1936 grabbing at the swing wave. The sheer volume of them gives us some sense, nearly 80 years after the fact, of how strongly the impact of the swing was perceived in the moment: Swing Mr. Charlie, Born To Swing, Swing Brother Swing, Watcha Gonna Do When There Ain’t No Swing -- I could go on – all from 1936.

Ella dominates almost from the start. With this session one can observe her domain over the music expanding as Van Alexander clears more runway space for her in his charts. No more middle chorus, like any other band singer. Here she’s the star, leading off with the verse and then the whole first chorus. The band takes a brief middle turn, enlivened by a frantic break by Webb. (It sounds like the matrix of Gene Krupa’s famous Don’t Be That Way barrage that would rattle Carnegie Hall in January 1938.) Then Ella reclaims the last third. She gets a second half chorus on the next one too, A Little Bit Later On. This one would be an early breakthrough for Ella and became a critics favorite. Metronome said that it was “the best example issued to date of why those who hear Webb and his chicks swear by the band.”


Click here to write a review

  Young Ella with a hot swinging band
I took a chance with this,not being too familiar with this period of Ellas career outside of a few tracks. Am I glad I did! Ella is in beautiful voice throughout,and the band just rocks from start to finish. Even the novelties work because of how well performed they are. A great set!
  The Definitive Ella with Chick Webb!
I bought this set when it first came out. I've been a fan of Ella and Chick since my Dad introduced me to this music as a child. Now as a 67 year old adult, I'm enjoying this set immensely. The quality of the remastering is the best I've ever heard on a jazz box set! All of the Mosaic sets I've purchased (I've got twenty so far have great sound). These sets are like Shakespeare; they need to be preserved for all time!
  Thank you Mosaic
First off, thank you so much, Mosaic, for making this important body of work available the way it should be. I've owned copies of this material where the selections were only available in phony stereo, including a Japanese set where they basically copied the selections from those phony-stereo Decca LPs instead of presenting them in original mono. So thank you very, very much. But, Mosaic, PLEASE start putting your CDs in packaging where they're easy to remove instead of leaving a blood-red mark on my fingers!
I had previously made repeated attempts at a decent-sounding Chick Webb set. Orrin Keepnews' Decca offering, for which he presumably had access to the original masters. Flat and dead sounding! Then I tried legendary John R.T. Davies effort for Hep Records. Full-sounding, but so lacking in dynamic range that all the snap gone! A Jazz After Hours import had the snap, but the louder horn passages suffered from over-modulation and would break up! Then I played the new Mosaic set -- Wow! The band sounds so ALIVE! And those drums, oh those drums, clear and distinct! Each instrument in the band is distinguishable, and in aggregation we finally get to hear what all the "King of the Savoy" fuss was about. Like I was, you may be wary of investing in all the novelty numbers and inane love ditties as Ella began to dominate. The Ella imports I've heard covering this period pushed the vocals way up front, relegating the band to sounding like back-up. Mosaic's remastering places Ella as an instrument IN the band, and that makes a big difference. Your attention is directed away from song lyrics and onto the overall band sound. I actually now think "Dippsy Doodle" kicks butt. Kudos due to John McDonough for his exceptionally detailed and literate text. The photography seems to capture the benevolent spirit of the drum giant. This one exceeds even Mosaic's usual high standards. If you're fond of swing era big band, plug the hole in your collection.
  Two Masters at Work
Unless you have a stack of mint 78s, you need this collection. The quality isn't perfect, but it's at least as good as the other versions I have of some of these recordings. The 8 CDs add up to only 6 hours, but there's hardly a dud in the 100+ tracks. The booklet and the inserts give lots of details about recording dates and personnel, and they seem to be accurate. In some alternate universe, Chick Webb lived as long and as healthy a life as Count Basie. One can only imagine the music folks in that universe are enjoying. I tend to discount Webb a bit because I unconsciously compare his recordings to Basie's later work, but during the years before Webb's death it would be hard to say who had the better band. (Basie had some outstanding horn players, but Webb had Ella!) After I invent time travel, a battle between those two bands at the Savoy will be one of my first stops... - Rob Szarka
  Early Ella at Her Best!!!
While I probably have quite a bit of this material on other issues, this Mosaic Box Set has the best audio quality of any previous issues. The non-Mosaic CDs I have of any of this material are going into the trash! As always, the liner notes are excellent with many photos I'd not ever seen. I'd suggest anyone interested in Ella & Chick buy this box set immediately, it's sure to sell out!

Chick Webb & Ella Fitzgerald Decca Sessions (1934-41) (#252)
Chick Webb & Ella Fitzgerald Decca Sessions (1934-41) (#252)
Limited Edition: 5,000 copies
8 CDs - $136.00

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