Released in 1996, Proper Box 97 contains 99 sides recorded under the leadership of master drummer Chick Webb beginning with the session of March 30, 1931 and ending with a recording made live at the Southland Cafe in Boston on May 4, 1939, a little over a month before he succumbed to spinal tuberculosis at the tender age of 30 (his last words being: "I'm sorry -- I gotta go!"). While this is an excellent, mostly thorough and chronologically presented history of Webb's brief reign as one of the nation's top swing band leaders, it fails to include two wonderful titles from 1929 ("Dog Bottom" and "Jungle Mama") that act as a tidy prelude to the rest of his works and have managed to make it onto other worthwhile Webb retrospectives. Why the folks at Proper omitted these precious early examples is a mystery. It's not for lack of room -- and if they needed a couple of minutes they could easily have jettisoned one or two of the Ella Fitzgerald novelties: "Chew, Chew, Chew Your Bubble Gum," for instance, does not exactly constitute an essential Chick Webb recording. Apparently the presence of alto saxophonist and future rhythm & blues archetype Louis Jordan on those 1929 sides wasn't reason enough to include them here. Aside from this unfortunate and irresponsible lapse in discographical vigilance, Proper has successfully marshaled together most of Webb's best work as leader of his big band and of a quintet billed as "Chick Webb and his Little Chicks." During this eight year period, Webb's ensembles fairly boiled over with talented, and in some cases now overlooked, artists. The trumpet section positively seethed with Shelton Hemphill, Louis Bacon, Mario Bauzá, Bobby Stark, Dick Vance, and Taft Jordan, who was also an accomplished Louis Armstrong-inspired vocalist. Among the trombonists were Jimmy Harrison, Claude Jones, and Sandy Williams. Webb's reedmen included Edgar Sampson (ace arranger and composer of such swing essentials as "Blue Lou," "Don't Be That Way," "If Dreams Come True," "Lullaby in Rhythm," and "Stompin' at the Savoy"); Benny Carter, Hilton Jefferson, Chauncey Haughton, Garvin Bushell, Wayman Carver (a tenor saxophonist whose flute solos with Webb constitute some of the earliest recorded instances of this instrument finding its way into the jazz mainstream), Ted McRae and the aforementioned Louis Jordan, who rejoined Webb's orchestra after Sampson exited in 1936. This list only skims the dramatis personae of Proper's intensive tribute to the great Chick Webb and his aspiring vocalist, Ella Fitzgerald. Seeing as the producers of the Classics Chronological Series handled these recordings but divvied them up between their Webb and Fitzgerald collections, it's nice to have most of Webb's legacy stashed within one box, albeit minus the 1929 recordings. The only other complaint to level at this particular set is the cover illustration. Based upon a period caricature of Webb that was displayed on the front of his bass drum, it is unflattering and somewhat grotesque. William Henry Webb, as evidenced by a close-up studio portrait, was a handsome and intelligent-looking individual. By comparison the leering cartoon used on Proper's packaging comes across as distorted and undignified.