Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews the complete Chick Webb & Ella Fitzgerald Decca Sessions (1934-1941) anthology:
Drummer Chick Webb’s 1930s’s orchestra terrorized competitors in band battles and sent dancers into orbit at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. They could similarly explosive on record, but only rarely. Early on they did have some hot Edgar Sampson arrangements that Benny Goodman would soon turn into hits, like “Blue Lou” and “Don’t Be That Way.” But the Webb band also had an old school crooner, Charles Linton, with pre-jazz-age enunciation.
In 1935 Linton helped draw a curtain over mannered singing like his, when he brought scruffy 16-year-old Ella Fitzgerald to Chick Webb’s attention. Her sound was streamlined and modern, about melody and rhythm more than emoting. Ella was unformed, but could read music and learn a song in a second. “This is it,” Webb said. “I have a real singer now. That’s what the public wants.” Music publishers deluged the band with mostly forgettable medium tempo swing tunes, but Ella could make something out of almost anything—such as “Sing Me a Swing Song (And Let Me Dance).” Her articulation was always precise, but as in later years a New York accent might slip out.
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