Most photographs of jazz drummer and bandleader Chick Webb show him either perched among cymbals, drums, and temple blocks, or posing with his star vocalist Ella Fitzgerald. Such snapshots accentuate his tiny physique and hunchbacked stature; the close-up photo on the cover of An Introduction to Chick Webb 1929-1939 (Best of Jazz 4015) depicts a powerful and intense individual whose eyes say more about life than most people would ever be able to express in words. This collection's 22 tracks represent an overview of the all-too-brief history of Webb as bandleader and sideman during the decade when jazz became popular under the banner of swing. Webb is heard leading his large and small bands ("Sweet Sue" was performed by a quintet calling itself Chick Webb & His Little Chicks), providing ballast for Mezz Mezzrow ("Apologies"), and locomotive propulsion for Louis Armstrong ("Hobo You Can't Ride This Train"). "My Honey's Lovin' Arms," recorded the day after "Clap Hands! Here Comes Charlie," is sung by Ivie Anderson with accompaniment by the Gotham Stompers, a nine-piece group combining members of the Chick Webb and Duke Ellington orchestras. The temporally sequential presentation allows for a comprehension of just how Webb's band evolved along with stylistic developments over the course of the decade. For best results, compare "Dog Bottom," recorded by Chick Webb's Harlem Stompers on June 14, 1929 with "In the Groove at the Grove," recorded by Chick Webb and His Orchestra on February 17, 1939. Webb's players were essential participants in the exciting changes that came over the music during the '30s. They included trumpeters Mario Bauzá and Taft Jordan, trombonists Jimmy Harrison and Sandy Williams, and reedmen Hilton Jefferson, Garvin Bushell, Wayman Carver (whose flute solos were highly unusual for the day), Edgar Sampson (a composer and arranger whose influence upon "The Swing Era" has never been properly acknowledged) and Louis Jordan, best remembered as a pioneer of jump swing and rhythm & blues. With ingredients like these, during the '30s the Chick Webb Orchestra stood shoulder to shoulder with those led by Duke Ellington, Claude Hopkins, Cab Calloway, Jimmie Lunceford, Count Basie, and Andy Kirk. This excellent sampler demonstrates how and why.
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AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf