1938: Wow, what an evening in New York

I’ve been working for a long time on a project that involves knowing a lot about the world of jazz and swing during the ’30s. I found this in a loose clipping that was probably from one of the black newspapers of the time, possibly the Amsterdam News.

The Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall concert mentioned was one of the signal events of the Swing Era, but if I could have attended only one venue that night, it would have been in Harlem

Webb “Cuts” Basie in Swing Battle

New York, N. Y.—The much heralded Battle of Swing between Chick Webb’s and Count Basie’s bands took place Sunday night, Jan. 16, at the Savoy Ballroom. The affair drew a record attendance and hundreds were turned away at the box office, with the crowds tying up traffic for several blocks in that vicinity. Applause for both bands was tremendous and it was difficult to determine which band was the more popular.

Nevertheless, the ballot taken showed Chick Webb’s band well in the lead over Basie’s and Ella Fitzgerald well out in front over Billie Holliday [sic] and James Rushing. The battle took place after Benny Goodman’s concert at Carnegie Hall, and many of Benny Goodman’s band, including Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton, Jimmie Mundy, Hymie Scherzer [sic] and others were present. Mildred Bailey, Red Norvo, Teddy Hill, Willie Bryant, Eddie Duchin, Duke Ellington and Ivie Anderson were also on hand.

Basie Sends Dancers While Webb Steals Show on Drums
Feeling ran very high between the supporters of the two bands, and it was a fight to the finish. Both bands played magnificently, with Basie having a particular appeal for the dancers, and Webb consistently stealing the show on the drums. Ella Fitzgerald caused a sensation with her rendition of “Loch Lomond,” and Billie Holliday [sic] thrilled her fans with “My Man.” When Ella sang she had the whole crowd rocking with her. James Rushing had everybody shouting the blues right along with him. Handkerchiefs were waving, people were shouting and stomping, the excitement was intense.

Basie Swings In on Dukes Ivories Solo

A highlight of the evening was reached when Duke Ellington was persuaded to play some piano and sounded so good that Basie’s band picked it up and swung right along with him. General consensus of opinion agreed that both bands played magnificently making the decision a close one. There was good feeling all round, and it was determined that there would be a return battle in the near future.

I just love the mental picture of all those Goodman guys, along with much of their musician audience, piling into cabs after their triumph downtown the home of classical music, and heading uptown to the Savoy, the home of real-jazz swing. The Savoy was Chick Webb’s house, so it’s no surprise his band won the ballot. And although we have relatively few recordings, it’s clear he swung hard. But Count Basie in 1938, at the height of his superbitude? Oh, my.

Exhibit A: “One O’Clock Jump” (AKA “Blue Balls”)

Exhibit B: Jumpin’ at the Woodside


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