Savoy Heyday is a philological document focused on the major black orchestras who performed in the Mecca of dance – or the Home of Happy Feet – as the Savoy Ballroom of Harlem, N.Y., was called.
It was a tremendous ground for any Jazz orchestra that wanted to test itself in front of 2-3 thousand dancers who crowded all the evenings! From the opening day on March 12th 1926 to the closing in October 1958 the ballroom saw large orchestras confront and challenge each other, eager to have great success, though very limited compared to the whites music business.
The audio tracks of the big bands featured on the CD are suitable to enhance the Lindy Hop: a dance born at the Savoy that spread all over the world. Classic tunes range from the international consecration of Swing music with the song Christopher Columbus recorded by Fletcher Henderson in 1936, to the advent of Jump-Blues pictured here with the song “Let It Roll Again” recorded by Lucky Millinder in 1950, the same year in which Count Basie disbanded his famous Orchestra. Fletcher Henderson was primarily responsible for the transition from collective New Orleans style to the big band music in the late 1920s. His orchestra was the highest expression of Jazz and his arrangements in 1935 decreed the success of Benny Goodman. After ups and downs, in 1936 he recorded his last great success Christopher Columbus, before disbanding the orchestra again and returning to arrange and play for Goodman.
Jimmie Lunceford had the most elegant, disciplined and complete orchestra in Swing. The Lunceford band were the best big band capable of a show never equaled before and during the Swing Craze. They remained at their peak until 1939, when Tommy Dorsey took away the main arranger Sy Oliver from him.
The song For Dancers Only from 1937 is the one on which the legendary dancer Frankie Manning first introduced the “Stops” in Lindy Hop. The song ‘Tain’t What You Do (It’s The Way That You Do It) from 1939 is the tune on which the choreography called “Shim Sham” is mainly performed at many modern social dances in group form.
The Count Basie Band arrives at the Savoy in May 1937 upsetting everyone with his swinging Blues. During the same days he recorded Moten Swing, the opening song of his concerts borrowed from Bennie Moten’s band previously directed by him and the iconic One O’Clock Jump that became a symbol of an era. Chick Webb was the ‘King of Swing’ until his sudden death in 1939 and His was the main band of the Savoy Ballroom since 1934. With the exception of Duke Ellington, his friend and promoter, and Count Basie, he swung out all the orchestras who challenged him and contributed greatly to Ella Fitzgerald’s success in the world of Jazz. Adored and feared by Lindy Hop dancers for his incredible rhythms, in 1938 he recorded his manifesto Spinnin’ the Webb.
Erskine Hawkins, another Savoy flagship orchestra, takes over from Chick Webb and stays there for over a decade. In 1939 he recorded Tuxedo Junction, unfortunately destined for eternal glory with the Glenn Miller version.
Al Cooper’s Savoy Sultans, a formation of only nine musicians who appeared at the Savoy in 1937, remained there as a home band until 1946, panicking all the challengers, including Count Basie! The groove of their simple but effective Jump-Swing tracks kept the dancers on the floor till the end; unfortunately not a particular feature during the recording phase. Second Balcony Jump from 1941 is one of the last pieces recorded by this proud orchestra.
Duke Ellington, an indomitable artist above Swing and Jazz (reductive terms for his aspirations), was also adored by the enchanted dancers at concerts. Fortunately, during the war period he recorded a series of songs suitable for dance such as Things Ain’t What They Used To Be (Time’s A-Wastin’) in 1942.
Roy Eldridge is the link between Swing and Be Bop. After having played in the big bands of Fletcher Henderson and Gene Krupa, just before landing in the one of Artie Shaw, he recorded in 1943 Jump Through The Window, a song that heralds the change of general tastes in favor of Rhythm and Blues.
Benny Goodman, the first white musician to perform at the Savoy with his orchestra, came out defeated from the historic battle held in March 1937 against Chick Webb (he inherited the crown of King of Swing, following Webb’s death in 1939) and owes much of his huge success to arrangements purchased from Fletcher Henderson. He is represented here with the famous Why Don’t You Do Right recorded in 1943, launching pad for Peggy Lee on vocals. The song however is nothing more than a sweetened version of A Weed Smoker’s Dream, a song recorded in 1935 by the black Harlem Hamfats of Chicago.
In 1945 Buddy Johnson and his band enters at the Savoy and becomes the home band until the late 50’s.
The swinging Blues repertoire from the South of the States makes him very popular with dancers and keeps him at the top even during the 1950s. The track Opus Two was recorded in 1945 and is a clear manifesto of the now descending line of Swing in favor of the Rhythm & Blues. Lucky Millinder also known as Master of Ceremonies, leads several big bands from the late 20s to 1960s. He was esteemed and respected by all musicians for correctness and contractual strength; right after Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington, his orchestras were those that signed the best engagements. A great showman, he makes a name for himself in Europe in 1933. At home at the Cotton Club with the Mills Blue Rhythm, in the 1940s he also went to the Savoy. His recordings of the second half of the 1940s with Whynonie Harris, Bull Moose Jackson, Al Greer and Rosetta Tharpe (discovered by him), pave the way for that Jump-Blues that white folks will later call Rock ‘n’ Roll. In 1950 with Let It Roll Again he recorded one of his last great hits.
To give a sense and a better taste to the songs, the recording has been done as it was back at the time, live in the studio without separate tracks.
BILLY BROS. Swing Orchestra: Swing and Jump-Swing of the golden age of the black Big Bands: hard, thrilling and swinging!
The sound impact and the repertoire of the Billy Bros. Swing Orchestra are a unique experience that catapults you immediately into the Savoy Ballroom of Harlem, N.Y., in full "Swing Craze". Delivering the sound of the thirties and forties, embellished with personalized arrangements, the band focuses on the repertoire of the Count Basie Orchestra and of the major black orchestras of the Savoy Ballroom. Founded in Sept. 1990 by the Meterangelo brothers as R’n’R Trio, over the years it has expanded the line-up and worked on a more challenging and swinging repertoire. Going back in the history of music, beginning from the late 50’s Rock 'n' Roll, the band worked on mid 50's Jumpin' Jive (Billy Bros.), early 50's Jump-Blues /Rhythm & Blues (The Wild Party), mid 40's Jive (Craze Radio Daze), 40’s/50’s Italian Swing (Swing Italiano), the Count Basie Orchestra (A Swingin' Love Fest), Swing /Jump-Swing of the black orchestras (Savoy Heyday). It is currently working on the roots of the Swing of the late 20s/early 30s (future CD project). This elegant, flamboyant and crazy orchestra for years has reproduced the 3 + 3 + 3 formula dear to Count Basie, for a total of nine Hepcats supported by the voice of Lady Swing and led by the anachronistic visionary Big Daddy. Over the years it has collected three European Tours and several concerts in the best Jazz, Swing, Blues and Rock Festivals of England, France, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Switzerland, Slovenia, Holland and Italy. The live shows are enriched by Chester Whitmore’s choreographies (USA) and completed by notes of retro culture, stage antics, stand-up comedy’s quotes and a great display of vintage clothes. The Billy Bros. Swing Orchestra has been the official band of the Queen of Swing "Norma Miller" with whom in 2017 it released the CD "A Swingin' Love Fest" which will be followed by a new project in the next future. The band has recorded five CDs and took part in seven compilations released in Italy, England, Germany, France, Argentina, USA and Japan; it boasts radio / television broadcasts from Vladivostok to Chicago.