Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Cross Post: The Savoy King movie

I am cross posting this from my Music for Drummers blog because I think that the audience for Snare Drum Addict will appreciate the information as much as the audience for that blog.

A few months ago I received an email from a producer named Jeff Kaufman, who informed me about a movie about the great Chick Webb and the Savoy Ballroom. The movie also features Ella Fitzgerald and other notables from that era who were connected with the Savoy and Chick. Because of a personal tragedy I am only now starting to write again.

The best way to present the project is to use Mr. Kaufman's description:

Chick's brief, inspiring life illuminates the society-changing power of music, the life-lifting effect of mentoring, a hard-fought breakthrough in racial understanding that reverberates today in many ways, and the ability of everyone (with or without disabilities) to reach beyond their apparent limits. Produced with The New Heritage Theatre Group (New York's oldest non-profit Black theater), The Savoy King: Chick Webb And The Music That Changed America weaves together newly filmed stories from remarkable people who knew Chick Webb at every phase of his life, with quotes from some of the greatest figures in Jazz history. Bill Cosby has voiced the words of Chick Webb, and we also have Tyne Daly voicing Jazz publicist Helen Oakley Dance, Ron Perlman as Gene Krupa, Andy Garcia as Mario Bauzá, and Danny Glover as Count Basie. We just had a screening of the rough cut, which we will now polish. Unfortunately, I've hit a financing wall at this crucial time, and I am urgently seeking tax deducible finishing funds to complete our work. Donations are tax deductible, and any level of support can make a big difference.

As you know, the Savoy Ballroom was the home of the amazing Lindy Hop dancers, and the first venue in America where Blacks and Whites could dance and socialize together. It had a huge, but largely unheralded social impact. Born fatherless and poor, Chick Webb developed spinal tuberculosis and was a hunchbacked dwarf in constant pain, yet he virtually invented modern drumming and built the hottest band of the 1930s (it was the Savoy Ballroom's "house band"). Chick was mentored by Duke Ellington, toured with Louis Armstrong, argued with Jelly Roll Morton, jammed with Artie Shaw, married a beautiful dancer, discovered and practically adopted Ella Fitzgerald (in many ways, their relationship is the heart of the film), beat Benny Goodman and Count Basie in legendary battle of the bands, befriended Mario Bauzá ("The Father of Afro-Cuban Jazz"), encouraged a struggling Dizzy Gillespie, and helmed the first Black band to host a national radio show . . . all before drumming himself to death at age 30.

We've been privileged to film with some terrific people, each who could warrant their own documentary. They include: drummers Louie Bellson (with, I believe, his last filmed drum performance) and Roy Haynes (among other things, he does a charming scat version of A-Tisket, A-Tasket), trumpeter Joe Wilder, playwright-actress Gertrude Jeannette, Swing dance masters Frankie Manning and Norma Miller, basketball star John Issacs, composer-arranger Van Alexander, longtime Harlem physician Dr. Muriel Petioni, childhood friend Rev. Edward Wilson (minister emeritus at Waters AME Church), Ella Fitzgerald's son Ray Brown Jr., the son of the Savoy Ballroom's owner, and Chick's jazz-loving nephew.

Since I am a big fan of that era, and revere Chick, I found the news of this project to be exciting. Chick's name is becoming a dim memory among drummers, and too many younger drummers never heard of him. To keep his name and accomplishments alive is, to me, important. Mr. Kaufman's project could be not only a loving tribute, but may spark interest in the newer generations, which could revive swing in much the same way Squirrel Nut Zippers and similar groups did in the 1990s.

A better overview of the project is on Floating World Pictures page titled The Savoy King: Chick Webb and the Music that Changed America.

If you are not familiar with Chick or the Savoy Ballroom, this clip from Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns is a quick introduction:

For more information about Chick, recommended recordings and links to more information, see my March 11, 2010 post.

Additional information that came after I posted the above on Music for Drummers:

The producer, Jeff Kaufman, just sent me two additional links to share:

  1. Savoy King movie web site
  2. Savoy King facebook fan page

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ludwig Has a Near Miss: 1930s Reissue Standard

Ludwig recently announced the reissue of the 1930s Standard model, which is based on the coveted two piece brass shell. Here is Ludwig's marketing blurb:
Ludwig Drum Company is proud to announce the limited availability of the 1930 “Standard” Model Reissue, Nickel-Over-Brass Snare Drum. A collaboration between Ludwig and Italian goldsmith Adrian Kirchler, The “Standard” Reissue is the first snare in the modern era to use Ludwig’s original 2-pc. Shell. “The original Standard and Deluxe models used two thin, brass sheets that were hand-rolled and joined together at the bead,” states Kirchler. “A very strong shell was then formed using the traditional double-crimped bearing edge on the top and bottom. This new Standard model is absolutely true to the original 2-pc shell design.”
The original Standard and Deluxe models are –of course- more commonly known today by their modern names: Chrome-Over-Brass and Black Beauty. After Conn purchased Ludwig and Ludwig in the early 30’s, the single-piece shell construction used today was implemented, and the original 2-pc. Standard shell became a thing of the past.
Before I begin citing why I am disappointed with this reissue, let me say some positive things about Ludwig. First, they have been listening to drummers. There were three Ludwig employees participating on Drumforum.org when I was active on that forum. And it remains one of the best forums on the web in my opinion. I marveled at how responsive Ludwig was to discussions. Not necessarily with respect to the Ludwig folks jumping into debates. Instead they showed they were listening by releasing new products that had an uncanny resemblance to recommendations and ideas that surfaced during discussions. So don't take this post as sour grapes or showing disrespect to Ludwig the company. On the contrary, I believe they are the most responsive drum company when it comes to actively listening to rank and file customers and proactively introducing products that match what they hear. Think of any other company - drum or otherwise - that is that responsive these days. You probably can't.

Here is the drum, and I will dissect the problems I see with it:

A few good things jump out: the shell itself, the classy oval Monroe badge that evokes memories of the Ludwig & Ludwig badge from the period, and even the P86 throw-off, which has a vintage vibe and modern reliability. As a side note I do wish Ludwig would use screws for tightening the pressure bar that can be tightened and loosened with a drum key instead of requiring a screw driver. But that is for another post.

What I personally don't care for (and this is totally subjective): the brass hardware. It clashes visually (to me) with the nickel finish over the brass shell. Worse, it detracts from the floral engraving in the two panels, drawing attention away from some of the artistry that Mr. Kirchler added to the shell. I am also not crazy about the P33 butt because it is anything but low mass and will probably interfere with the shell's resonance. On the plus side, the P33 can be tightened and loosened with a drum key. I could probably live with it, but I would rather see the venerable and very low mass P32 as a butt. Again, that is a personal preference.

What I believe makes this snare drum a miss is Ludwig's choice of die cast hoops. Why take a thin, two-piece shell, then choke the life out of it with die cast hoops? This isn't the 80s when Tama and other companies touted die cast hoops and drummers bought into the hype. Die cast hoops have a place in the studio to be sure, but for live playing they will negate all of the advantages (and mojo) of that beautifully crafted two piece shell. Worse, those heavy hoops kill any visual link back to the original of which this model is a reissue. Before someone chimes in using Gretsch's tried and true die cast hoops as a counter argument, those hoops that made their round badge drums special were much lighter than modern die cast hoops. In fact, the Gretsch die cast hoops are probably on par with modern 2.3MM triple-flanged hoops.

A few thoughts: if the drum is aimed at collectors who are going to put it in a glass case and gloat over bragging rights, use single-flange hoops like on the Ludwig 95th Anniversary snare drum. That would also please some orchestral drummers, and it would be a truer reissue. Sourcing them is not a challenge these days. Since Ludwig's Black Magic snare drums appear to be sourced from the same suppliers as those Worldmax uses - down to the S9X throw-off and shells - single-flanged, COB hoops and clips are readily obtainable. If the drum is going to be played instead of sitting in a case, then the owner can quickly and inexpensively swap in triple-flange hoops like so many owners of the original two-piece shell drums are already doing.

Despite my dislike of what appears to be a pastiche instead of a reissue, I have to commend Ludwig for listening and attempting to reissue the 1930s Standard. I believe they missed the mark with this particular snare drum, but they have been hitting bullseyes with so many other products that they are allowed a few stumbles.