During the period of time covered by this collection,
Count Basie and his orchestra were in their
early prime. Although the band's key soloist,
Lester Young, had departed under mysterious
circumstances, the Basie crew was considered
the definitive swing orchestra and was setting the
pace for all other jazz big bands.
Born 21 August 1904 in Red Bank, New
Jersey, Bill Basie started on piano early in life and
was initially inspired by the great stride pianist
Fats Waller who was only three months older.
Although not the virtuoso that Waller was, Basie
took what appealed to him from Fats' happy
style and came up with his own stride style. Over
the years he greatly pared down his approach
until he was left with the absolute essentials.
Basie started out playing locally in New Jersey
and New York, most notably with the bands of
June Clark and Elmer Snowden. Hitting the road,
he worked with travelling revues including two
years touring with the Gonzelle White Show.
When that production broke up in Kansas City,
leaving Basie stranded, he noted that the local
music scene was full of great potential. Basie
decided to stick around and, after working as an
accompanist to silent movies, in 1928 he joined
Walter Page's Blue Devils. After a year of
performing with that struggling band, he accepted
an offer to join Bennie Moten's Orchestra, which
was considered the finest big band of the Midwest.
What was odd is that Moten was himself
a pianist but, after hiring Basie, he reduced his
own playing to brief appearances, using Basie on
all of his own recordings and band dates.
Basie made his recording debut with Moten
and a 1932 session hints strongly at the future
Count Basie Orchestra. Although he broke away
for a short time, Basie stayed with Moten's band
for most of the time up until Bennie Moten's
death in 1935 from a botched tonsillectomy.
Soon afterwards he put together his own Barons
Of Rhythm and picked up his nickname 'Count'
from a radio announcer.
After a year of steady gigging in Kansas City,
Basie's band was discovered one night by talent
scout/producer John Hammond when he heard
a broadcast from the Reno Club on radio station
W9XBY. Hammond flew to Kansas City and
persuaded Count to bring his band to New York.
Although the orchestra suffered some growing
pains when they added some new musicians and
had to solidify their arrangements (many of
which had previously been made up on the
spot), by mid-1937 the Count Basie Orchestra
was outswinging all of its competitors.
Basie continued to build on his success during
the next few years. Even after Lester Young
departed, the Basie band was a powerhouse with
such major soloists as trumpeters Buck Clayton
and Harry 'Sweets' Edison, trombonist Dickie
Wells, Don Byas and Buddy Tate on tenors,
altoist Tab Smith and Basie himself, not to
mention singer Jimmy Rushing. All are heard
from during this collection which has some of
Basie's most rewarding recordings from 1941-42.
'Coming Out Party' begins with Earl Warren's
9:20 Special. After brief spots for Tab Smith,
Basie and Edison, guest tenor-saxophonist
Coleman Hawkins sounds quite at home, roaring
with the Basie band.
Goin' To Chicago Blues would be identified
with Joe Williams when he began singing with
the Basie orchestra in the mid-1950s, but this
rendition has Jimmy Rushing in the spotlight and
a near-classic solo by Buck Clayton. Speaking of
Clayton, he is showcased throughout Fiesta In
Blue, playing in his typically distinctive style,
improvising around the melody with such subtlety
that it is difficult to know what was written out
and what was spontaneous; he always thought
like an arranger. Both of these versions of Goin'
To Chicago Blues and Fiesta In Blue were turned
into vocalese by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross in
Paul Robeson had many skills in his life and
he was a hero to African-Americans, but he never
attempted to be a jazz singer. The closest he
came was during the two-part tribute to
heavyweight champion Joe Louis titled King Joe.
What a deep voice!
Although it was not a hit, Jimmy Mundy's
Feather Merchant is a perfect example why the
Basie band was considered so great. A simple
medium-tempo blues, Feather Merchant is full
of riffing by the horns, has solos that emerge
logically from the ensembles, and includes a
generous slice of the percussive Basie piano.
Jimmy Rushing, the top male vocalist
featured regularly with a big band during the
swing era, was at his best on blues although he
was quite effective on standards and ballads too.
Rushing is assisted by trombonist Dickie Wells
on the memorable Harvard Blues. Coming Out
Party and the laidback Basie Blues show off the
ensemble strength of the Basie band while
Rushing returns for an encore on a Louis Jordan
hit, I'm Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town.
The next eight selections put the spotlight on
the Count Basie rhythm section, with trumpeter
Buck Clayton and tenor-saxophonist Don Byas
making the group a sextet on four of the
numbers. Although Basie was always very
modest about his piano playing, his style by 1942
was an important link between stride piano and
bebop. Basie believed in making every note
count so, rather than 'striding' back and forth
with his left-hand to keep time, he left so much
space that bassist Walter Page had a major role
and the string bass grew greatly in significance in
jazz combos. Basie's right hand played ideas
that sounded simple but displayed his perfect
time. With Freddie Green stating a quiet fourfour
rhythm on his chordal guitar and Jo Jones
emphasizing cymbals over the bass drum, the
Count Basie rhythm section had a very light feel
and its own sound. The rhythm section floated
yet swung hard, even at a low volume.
Even with the emphasis on the blues (the
word 'blues' is in each of the date's eight
selections), there is plenty of variety to be heard
during the 24 July 1942 session. Royal Garden
Blues shows off its roots in 1920s jazz, How
Long Blues is a lowdown blues, Bugle Blues
(which is really "Bugle Call Rag") has some
heated breaks and riffing and Sugar Blues is
taken as a ballad. Farewell Blues has Walter
Page taking a key role, Cafe Society Blues is
reminiscent of both "One O'Clock Jump" and
late 1930s boogie-woogie, Way Back Blues lives
up to its name and St Louis Blues is the Basie
treatment to the most famous of all blues.
Completing this set is a slightly earlier performance,
the two-part The World Is Mad from
the 1940 Count Basie Orchestra. Buddy Tate,
Dickie Wells, the great tenor-saxophonist Lester
Young and Basie are the soloists, but the real
star is the always-swinging Count Basie Orchestra.
There would be many musical thrills
throughout Basie's life during the next forty
years until his death in 1984. Some of the most
enjoyable moments are to be heard on this
- author of 9 jazz books including Jazz On Film, Swing,