Savoy Ballroom

Title

Savoy Ballroom

Description

The Savoy Ballroom was a very important music venue during the 1920s in New York City. This source is the "history" page from the Savoy Ballroom web site, as the venue is still in use. There are photos of prior performers from the 1920s, demonstrating the blurring of racial lines in the interest of hearing good jazz music, and there is also a brief written history of the venue. In the reading I've done in secondary sources, the Savoy Ballroom is mentioned frequently. This source is unique and interesting, because it is a key venue telling its own history. I debated whether or not this source was primary, but in the end decided that, in its role as a narrative of its own history, it could not be categorized as secondary. The pictures and text correspond, and tell a rich history of a seminal location.

Creator

Unknown/Undocumented

Text

Although in their hey-day the Savoy House Bands were widely recognised and valued for their driving swinging rhythms, apart from Chick Webb, they have subsequently seldom received the recognition they deserved. A lot of this has to do with their failure to make recordings of sufficient quality which many subsequent jazz writers base their understanding of the subject on. Gunther Schuller for example in his classic work The Swing Era dismisses two of the greatest Savoy house bands - the "Savoy Sultans" and the "Teddy Hill Orchestra" - in this manner because of the weakness of their recorded material. Many observers who actually went to the Savoy have asserted that these bands during their best times could blow away any competition that played on the other side of the Savoy's double band stand.

This highlights the problem of relying on jazz history based on scholarship derived almost entirely from listening to old records. As Humphrey Lyttelton, one of the major figures of the British post-WW2 jazz scene, amusingly put it: “ To judge jazz from gramophone records, to build theoretical skyscrapers on the evidence of recordings which occupied a fraction of the playing life of the musicians who made them, is like assessing the art of Leonardo da Vinci on the evidence of the Mona Lisa's left nostril. ” ( Second Chorus London : Jazz Book Club, 1959 p. 71)

The importance of the house bands stems from their rapport with the Savoy dancers. This was the key to their success and on which they depended for the continuation of their tenure there and as a result developed special insights into swing that other musicians did their best to imitate. Many of the better-known white bands sent individual musicians uptown to "sit in" with the Savoy house bands in order to get to grips with the real thing!

In theoretical terms at least the area where jazz music interacted with jazz dancing remains he big unknown. There are huge quantities of books on jazz music, and a growing number, although still few ones on jazz dance, but virtually nothing of any analytical depth on how they really worked together when “Swing was King.”

Opening night of The Savoy Ballroom March 12, 1926 featured two bands: The Charleston Bearcats and Fess Williams and His Orchestra. Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra was working as the house band at Roseland Ballroom downtown, and for the first 3 nights came up town to play the Savoy starting at 2:00 A.M..

Opening night of The Savoy Ballroom March 12, 1926 featured two bands: The Charleston Bearcats and Fess Williams and His Orchestra. Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra was working as the house band at Roseland Ballroom downtown, and for the first 3 nights came up town to play the Savoy starting at 2:00 A.M..

Exact dates are almost impossible without the written contracts. It also seems many musicians and Band leaders had an ongoing relationship with the Savoy's Booking makes pin pointing the dates and times they were actually house bands or just perhaps extended engagements.

This list is a great resource however more information will be added as time allows.

Fess Williams and his Royal Flush Orchestra opened the Savoy Ballroom and continued to play a house band from 1926 to 1928.The band was known as a hot jazz orchestra that recorded up until 1930. Fess played many instruments but was best know for his Clarinet and alto Saxophone playing, he was also the uncle to Charles Mingus.

Leon Abbey the Violin player started fronting the Charleston Bearcats in 1924 and upon opening the Savoy Ballroom changed the name to the Savoy Bearcats. After working the Savoy the band worked under the name Leon Abbey's orchestra and traveled, to Argentina, Asia and Europe during the 30's. He lead solid bands after the war in Chicago and New York until he retired.

Cecil Scott's Bright Boys were the house band at the Savoy Ballroom from 1928 until 1931. They won the 1928 South Sea Island Ball Battle of eight bands. The following year, Arabian Nights Theme, they fell second to Ellington.

Files

fesswilliams1.jpg
leonabbey.jpg
brightboys1.jpg

Collection

Citation

Unknown/Undocumented, “Savoy Ballroom,” Inbetween Peoples, accessed September 24, 2020, https://as205.omeka.net/items/show/7.

Geolocation