New York Film Festival 2012: Music With Lasting Social Impact
September 26, 2012 Leave a comment
By: Barbara Castro, Originally Posted on WIP Talk, September 25, 2012
The New York Film Festival is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a large slate of films and will open September 28th and run through October 14th.
Two documentaries featured deal with the indelible effect of music on culture and history. I was particularly taken with The Savoy King: Chick Webb and the Music That Changed America, written and directed by Jeff Kaufman. The documentary relies mostly on first-hand accounts, some film clips (there is only a four second clip of Webb in existence today) and stills. The film tells the story of Chick Webb, a drummer who had his own band and his own style of Swing during the 1930’s. Webb was also documented in Ken Burn’s History of Jazz, but Kaufmann sets out to expand the story.
Born fatherless and poor in Baltimore, Chick Webb broke his back at age four and developed spinal tuberculosis leaving him hunchbacked with limited use of his legs. Drumming was suggested as a way to build up his upper body strength and the drum and jazz music became his life. His talent and drive were formidable. Early in his career Duke Ellington mentored Webb and helped him form his band.
Just a little over four feet tall, Webb sat on a raised platform behind the band drumming his way to history. Kaufman crafts an exciting documentary given his limited resource material. He taps into the memories of Freddie Manning and Norma Miller, both “Lindy Hop” dancers at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. He also uses voiceovers by stars reading the words of music legends now dead. Bill Cosby reads the quotes of Webb and a breathy Janet Jackson is heard as Ella Fitzgerald. Everyone attests to the artistry and musical integrity that Webb brought to his music and to The Savoy Ballroom.
Webb became the lead band at The Savoy Ballroom and his song “Stomping At The Savoy” rocked the house. The Savoy became the home of the Lindy Hop craze and was the first club in our country where blacks and whites could dance and socialize together. This was a huge step forward in integration and at the press conference, Kaufman called Webb the Rosa Parks of American music clubs. It is amazing that as late as the1930’s places like The Cotton Club in Harlem were completely segregated and only allowed white patrons who listened and danced to black entertainers.
Interested in learning more about combining music and film at your festival? Join The Creative Coalition, SXSW, The Mountain Jam, D & E Entertainment and Van’s Warped Tour as they discuss the same topics during their panel, “The Best of Both Worlds: Combining Film & Music at your Festival” at the upcoming International Music Festival Conference in Austin, Texas at the Hyatt Regency Austin, December 2-4.