Chick Webb was born William Henry Webb on February 10, 1905 in Baltimore, Maryland. Suffering from tuberculosis of the spine as a child, it left him short of stature and with a badly deformed spine, causing him to appear hunchbacked. His doctor suggested playing an instrument would loosen up his bones and after saving up his newspaper boy money bought a set of drums and was playing professionally by age 11.
At the age of 17 Chick moved to New York City, took drum lessons from Tommy Benford and by 1926 was leading his own band in Harlem. He alternated between band tours and residencies at New York City clubs through the late 1920s and by 1931 his band became the house band at the Savoy Ballroom. He became one of the best-regarded bandleaders and drummers of the new swing style.
Webb couldn’t read music but memorized the arrangements played by the band and conducted from a platform in the center. Although his band was not as influential and revered in the long term, it was feared in the battle of the bands, with the Savoy often featured “Battle of the Bands” where Webb’s band always came out on top over Goodman’s or Basie’s band. He was crowned the first King of Swing and didn’t lose until 1937 to Duke Ellington.
In 1935 he began featuring a teenaged Ella Fitzgerald and the two electrified the Swing Era with hits like Van Alexander’s A-Tisket A-Tasket. By 1938, Webb’s health began to decline; for a time, however, disregarding his own discomfort he continued to play, refusing to give up touring so that his band could remain employed during the Great Depression. Finally, following a major operation at John Hopkins Hospital, drummer and bandleader William Henry “Chick” Webb passed away from spinal tuberculosis at age 34 on June 16, 1939, in Baltimore, Maryland.
His death hit the jazz/swing community very hard and after his death Ella Fitzgerald led the band until it disbanded when she left to focus on her solo career in 1942.
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Ray Alexander was born on February 7, 1925 in Lynbrook, Long Island, New York. His mother was a concert pianist who began him on the instrument as a very young child. Asthma ended his ambitions to be a trumpeter but after hearing Gene Krupa his interest turned towards drums. He education also came from listening to Big Sid Catlett, Art Tatum, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker in the clubs.
Ray started his musical career as a drummer, playing with Claude Thornhill, Bobby Byrne, the Dorsey Brothers, Stan Getz, Joe Venuti, Mel Torme, Johnny Smith, Chubby Jackson, Stuff Smith and numerous others. Switching to the vibraphone he worked with George Shearing, Charlie Barnett, Bil Evans, Anita O’Day and Mel Lewis, as well as his own quartet.
In the early ’70’s he joined with Mousey Alexander and formed the Alexanders the Great quartet which was booked frequently at the new Half Note uptown, as well as gained notoriety and bookings through the city.
By 1983 Ray put out an album called “Cloud Patterns“, recorded live at Eddie Condon’s featuring Albert Daily on piano, Harvie Swartz on bass, Ray Mosca on drums and Pepper Adams on baritone saxophone. He would go on to work with Kenny Barron, Warren Vache Jr., Bob Kindred, Harvie Swartz, Oliver Jackson, Mac Chrupcala, John Anter and Marshall Wood, tour England and nearby European countries. Vibraphonist and drummer Ray Alexander passed away on June 9, 2002 in new Hyde Park, New York as a result of complications from elective surgery.
Jimmy “Craw” Crawford was born on January 14, 1910 in Memphis, Tennessee. For nearly 14 years from 1928 to 1942 he was the drummer of the Jimmie Lunceford big band. Playing with a strong, solid pulsation, his style became a classic trademark of the Lunceford sound and was a key factor in establishing the unique Lunceford beat.
In the 1950s, Crawford worked as a pit drummer on Broadway. He also recorded with numerous notable artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Sy Oliver, Bing Crosby, Benny Goodman, Kenny Burrell, Quincy Jones, Eddie Heywood and Frank Sinatra among others.
Swing era drummer Jimmy Crawford, who was notably Paul Motian’s favorite drummer, passed away on January 28, 1980 in New York City.
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F. Bill Goodwin was born in Los Angeles, California on January 8, 1942. He is the son of announcer and actor Bill Goodwin of the Burns and Allen radio and television programs.His professional drumming career began in 1959 and has worked with Bil Evans, Dexter Gordon, Art Pepper, Jim Hall, George Shearing, Bobby Hutcherson, June Christy, Joe Williams, Tony Bennett,, Mose Allison, and the Manhattan Transfer among others.
He joined vibraphonist Gary Burton when he brought him to the East Coast in 1969. After a three year stint with Burton’s group, Bill settled in the Poconos and worked the local hotels and resorts. It was there that he and bassist Steve Gilmore met. They are both charter members of the Phil Woods Quintet, joining at the quartets inception in 1974.
In the mid-Seventies Goodwin worked with Tom Waits on his Nighthawks at the Diner album and with Steely Dan. He has been a featured performer at the W. C. Handy Music Festival as a member of the festival’s All-Stars alongside guitarist Mundell Lowe and pianists/vocalists Johnny O’Neal and Ray Reach, vibraphonist Chuck Redd and guitarist Tom Wolfe.
Drummer Bill Goodwin won a Grammy for the Phil Woods albums More Live and At the Vanguard and has produced several albums for trumpeter Tom Harrell, Keith Jarrett, Gabor Szabo, Bill Plummer and Paul Horn. He currently teaches jazz drumming at William Paterson University while continuing to perform as the drummer for the Phil WoodsQuartet/Quintet and the Little Big Band.
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Motohiko “Toko” Hino was born on January 3, 1946 in Tokyo, Japan. His father was a dancer and musician and taught him and his brother Terumasa to tap dancing as children. At the age of ten, he began playing drums and by age 17 was playing professionally.
In the mid-1970s, Hino was repeatedly voted by Swing Journal the best jazz drummer in Japan, though from 1978 he was based in New York City. He released an album under his own name in 1971 and two more in the early 1990s.
He played with musicians such as Joanne Brackeen, Joe Hnedrson, Takehiro Honda, Karen Mantler, Hugh Masekela, John Sofield, Jean-Luc Ponty, Sonny Rollins, Jon Faddis and Billy Harper among others.
On May 13, 1999 drummer Motohiko Hino passed away of cancer.
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