Stephanie Crease at Harvard Book Store


Rhythm Man:
Chick Webb and the
Beat That Changed America

in conversation with JUDITH TICK


June 5, 2023
7:00 PM ET


Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138


This event is free; no tickets are required.

Harvard Book Store welcomes STEPHANIE CREASE— author of Gil Evans: Out of the Cool and Duke Ellington: His Life in Jazz—for a discussion of her new biography Rhythm Man: Chick Webb and the Beat That Changed America. She will be joined in conversation by JUDITH TICK—author of Becoming Ella Fitzgerald: The Jazz Singer Who Transformed American Song.

Update on Event Masking Policies

Masks are not required for this event. As of June 1, 2023, masks are encouraged but not required for most Harvard Book Store events, unless otherwise specified. Please review individual listings.

About Rhythm Man

William Henry "Chick" Webb (1905-39) was one of the first virtuoso drummers in jazz and an innovative bandleader dubbed the "Savoy King," who reigned at Harlem's world-famous Savoy Ballroom. Along with the likes of Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, and Cab Calloway, Webb helped create the popular dance and music culture, known as Swing, that swept the United States during and after the Great Depression and left an indelible impact on American culture. Having moved to Harlem from Baltimore during the Harlem Renaissance, Webb's creativity, charisma and persistence enabled him to navigate the harsh realities of racism and show business, lifting not only himself to stardom but also bringing other future legends-namely vocalist extraordinaire Ella Fitzgerald and R&B trailblazer Louis Jordan-along with him. But at the peak of his fame, at just 34 years of age, his life was cut short by the chronic spinal tuberculosis that had left him four feet tall with a hump on his back.

In this first comprehensive biography of Webb, author Stephanie Stein Crease traces his story in full, showing how his skills and innovations as a bandleader helped catalyze the music of the Swing Era and the growing big band industry, allowing Webb to become one of the most influential musicians in jazz history. Crease explores Webb's personal and professional struggles as he rose to the top of the increasingly competitive world of big band jazz.

Praise for Rhythm Man

"Like Andrew Delbanco's work on Melville, Stephanie Stein Crease's Rhythm Man is sweeping, probing cultural history not to be mistaken for mere biography. Missing nothing worth knowing, Crease explores the whole world around the drummer and bandleader Chick Webb—the world that made him and the world he remade with his still dazzling, still under-appreciated musical art." —David Hajdu, author of Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn

"Chick Webb is arguably the greatest of big band drummers because he was an incredible technician, orchestrator, and bandleader; he created the template for what came after him. However, there is so little written about him in totality, and the passion and love that Stephanie Crease pours into this book will allow it to become the missing link to understanding the magnitude of Chick's contribution to the world of jazz big band drumming and beyond. Thanks to this book, we get to understand how and why Chick Webb was one of the greatest to ever play a drum set in the configuration of a big band, which is foundational to the creation of jazz music." —Ulysses Owens Jr., Grammy Award-winning jazz drummer, educator, creative entrepreneur

"Fiction couldn't have created a better hero than Chick Webb, and Stephanie Crease is the writer to tell the tale. A Black artist with a disability, in constant pain, Webb let nothing stop his momentum—the modernization of jazz drumming. Deeply researched and lovingly told, Crease places Webb at the center of American popular culture of the Swing Era. A fascinating read." -- Linda Dahl, author of Morning Glory: A biography of Mary Lou Williams

Judith Tick
Judith Tick

Judith Tick

Judith Tick is professor emerita of music history at Northeastern University. She has published award-winning books and articles about American music and women's history in music, including Ruth Crawford Seeger: A Composer's Search for Music. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Photo Credit: James W. Blackman

Stephanie Crease
Stephanie Crease

Stephanie Crease

Stephanie Stein Crease is a jazz historian, author, editor, and former Senior Jazz Coordinator for the Jazz Arts Program, Manhattan School of Music. Her books include Gil Evans: Out of the Cool (ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award), and Duke Ellington: His Life in Jazz. She was literary editor for the Grammy-awarded Duke Ellington Centennial Edition. She was a 2020 Scholar-in Residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYPL, and 2018 Berger-Benny Carter-Berger Research Fellow at the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University.

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