[Monday Notes no. 131] Chick Webb was one of the first great jazz drummers, his career was short but many drummers were inspired by him. Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Sid Catlett, Jo Jones and others paid homage to Chick Webb and considered him a master. We listen to his orchestra playing Blues in My Heart, a beautifully tune written by Benny Carter.
To become an excellent drummer, Chick Webb had to appeal to a very strong motivation. In fact, he was ill from birth and playing actually cost him great effort.
Chick Webb was very generous with his bandmates. Although he had a fairly successful orchestra, he did not hesitate to release his best musicians when he sensed that it would benefit their careers. Chick Webb is also remembered as the discoverer of Ella Fitzgerald, who joined his orchestra as a girl and took over its leadership when he died, less than 40 years old.
We listen to his orchestra playing Blues in My Heart. Despite its title, the piece is not really a blues but a song with the classic AABA form of 32 measures.
Despite adopting the typical 32-measure form, the song is inspired by the blues in more than one aspect. We note, for example, that the melody is descending as is often the case in the blues, with an effective chromatic scale at measures 3-4.
Furthermore, the I and IV degree chords (Bb and Eb) are both treated as dominant chords. The lyrics of the song, although short, also deal with a typical blues theme, the end of a love affair.
The second part [B] of Blues in My Heart is an almost literal repetition of part [A] transposed a fourth above. In the second line, however, we find a very daring harmonic succession: Ab7 Db7 Gb7 B7. These dominant seventh chords at a distance of a fourth bring to mind the typical turnarounds used by Tadd Dameron and other musicians of the bebop period.
Known more as an arranger and saxophonist than as a songwriter, Benny Carter proves with this track that he knows how to combine fantasy and tradition. Blues in My Heart is a delightful piece, although it is very simple and also quite easy to play.
Chick Webb was a drummer capable of powerful solos but in his big band recordings he rarely improvised. In fact, he preferred to put his prowess at the service of music, as in this performance where the drums support the band with a robust but discreet pulse.
Blues in My Heart è un brano elegante che porta la tristezza del blues nel titolo e nel testo ma sembra contraddirla con la tranquillità della sua linea melodica.
Blues in My Heart is a graceful song that carries the sadness of the blues in its title and lyrics but seems to contradict it with the tranquility of its melodic line. For this reason, it is well suited to commemorate Chick Webb, a great musician who endured his illnesses with great fortitude and lightness of spirit. It is said that on his deathbed his last words were ‘I’m sorry, but I gotta go’.
Until next Monday
Download the lead sheet of Blues in My Hearth