Popular in the 1930’s and 1940’s, big band battles were contests to see which of two competing bands could be the first to drive an audience crazy. One of the most famous of these playoffs took place between the Chick Webb Orchestra and the Benny Goodman Orchestra. The battle took place on the night of May 11, 1937, in the famous Savoy Ballroom in New York City. Two of the standout players were drumming heroes Chick Webb and Gene Krupa. Both were known as two of the greatest musicians at that time.
Hours before the scheduled battle, the police had installed a barricade around the stage. New York riot patrolmen were at the ready just in case the 4,000 people inside and 5,000 outside got out of hand. George Simon, a noted jazz historian recalled that “Benny’s band played first and made a great impression. But then the Webb boys got into it. They blew the roof off the Savoy! The crowd screamed and whistled with delirium. The Webb band easily toppled Goodman’s that night.”
Years later Krupa still remembered that night. He wrote, “That night when we battled Chick at the Savoy – he just cut me to ribbons — made me feel awfully small…that man was dynamic; he could reach the most amazing heights. When he really let go, you had a feeling that the entire atmosphere in the place was being charged. When he felt like it, he could cut down any of us.” Here’s a testimony from two witnesses who where there: