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SIFF Review: 'The Savoy King' Celebrates Harlem Jazz Drummer Chick Webb

Reviews
by John W. Comerford
June 11, 2012 8:39 PM
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The principal backdrop for this incessant cadence is the Savoy Ballroom. Opened by 27-year-old entrepreneur Moe Gale in 1926, a luggage salesman looking for a sideline business opportunity, the Savoy unintentionally breached race barriers in Harlem that had world-famous spots such as The Cotton Club admitting only white patrons. All were welcome at the Savoy to listen, dance, socialize and in a twist for an uptown nightspot – behave. The ballroom’s policy of decorum enabled ladies of all backgrounds to frequent the establishment without fear of inappropriate advances or violence. Critical to the establishment’s success, this focused the patrons on the acrobatic swing dancers and furious beats that fueled the famously raucous atmosphere.

Kaufman dutifully profiles the celebrities who flocked to the Savoy, including Clark Gable. When word spread of his arrival, the customers asked: "Can he dance?"  When the answer was "No," the crowd quickly turned its attention back to the action on the bandstand and dance floor.

Another story weaved with Webb's is that of his discovery and cultivation of initially timid vocal great Ella Fitzgerald. The film does stretch into excessively atonal territory with the use of less than fully realized 3-D computer simulations of the Savoy and some narration segments that are too eager to please. But as one of the jazz greats has been known to say, in the jazz idiom, "there are simply no wrong notes."

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