Special Collections and Archives
researched by Music Librarian Christopher Popa
In 1973, a "Chick Webb Orchestra" was assembled to appear at the Newport Jazz Festival, backing Ella Fitzgerald and playing a group of songs in tribute to their former boss. Saxophonist Eddie Barefield conducted for the appearance, and disappointed some by using his own arrangements instead of the original Webb charts. (Ella sang A-Tisket, A-Tasket, but it wasn't Van Alexander's writing.) Perhaps no one knew whether those authentic manuscripts still existed.
When I spoke with Alexander in November 2004, I inquired about his own music library.
"Funny that you should ask that," he responded. "Billy May and myself and Neal Hefti and a lot of the other guys that recorded at Capitol, through the years, have been asking, 'What happened to all our arrangements?' And nobody knew where they are, or who's got them, and whether they threw them out, or burned them, they were just not available. Just a couple of months ago, I got a call from a fellow at Brigham Young University, in Utah. And he said, 'How'd you like to have a couple of your old Capitol scores?' I said, 'What are you talking about?' He says, 'Well . . . I'm working at the Library at Brigham Young, and I've come across so much music and a lot of it is yours and lot of it is Billy May's, and would you like to have the scores? I can photostat 'em for you.' I said, 'Sure, I certainly would.' So that's where they were. But I never had any, uh... I don't have any music parts... I don't have a place to put 'em, if I did have them. But he sent me about ten of the scores that I had, and I was happy to have those. And if anybody wants 'em, they can have 'em, but they'd have to be copied... the individual parts."
Other memorabilia, such as the image of Webb shown below, is in the hands of private collectors.
Alexander, Van. Interview with author, Nov. 8, 2004.