With the Count Basie Orchestra set to appear in the St. Louis area next weekend, this seems like the perfect opportunity to present some vintage video of Basie and his band. The present-day Basie Orchestra, currently under the direction of trombonist Bill Hughes and featuring St. Louis native Tony Suggs on piano, will play Saturday, May 1 at SIUE's Meridian Ballroom for the University's "Arts And Issues" series.
The band still plays a number of the charts you'll see performed in today's videos, which are from a broadcast done for the BBC back in 1965 (broken into five parts so as not to exceed the maximum length allowed by YouTube).
It's interesting to consider that at the time this was shot, the British Invasion was the biggest thing in popular music here in the U.S., and big band music already was considered somewhat old-fashioned. Yet the audience of Brits watching the performance obviously dig Basie and his crew, applauding enthusiastically for every number and cheering long and loud for moments like Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis' tenor sax feature on "Jumpin' At The Woodside" and Rufus "Speedy" Jones' thunderous drum solo on "Whirly Bird." Forty-five years later, the performance still impresses, aided by some good sound and crisp camerawork and direction.
The Basie band of this era was stocked to the proverbial gills with choice soloists including Davis and fellow saxophonists Eric Dixon and Marshall Royal, trombonist Al Grey and trumpeter Al Aarons, and armed with a thick book of tunes that ranged all the way from the riff-based blues of their early Kansas City days to the modern arrangements crafted for them in 1950s and 1960s by Neal Hefti, Quincy Jones, FrankFoster and others. The Count himself is in fine form here, too, contributing several tasteful piano solos and directing the orchestra with characteristic aplomb.
Here's a clip-by-clip list of the featured songs: Part 1: "All of Me," "Flight of the Foo Birds" and "The Midnight Sun Never Sets" Part 2: "Blues for Eileen" and "Jumpin' At The Woodside" Part 3: "I Need to Be Be'd With" and "April In Paris" Part 4: "Whirly Bird" Part 5: "Li'l Darlin'" and "One O'Clock Jump"
Though Count Basie passed away in 1984, the band has continued in more-or-less uninterrupted fashion under a succession of musical directors, keeping these classic arrangements alive for new generations and also making new recordings, the most recent of which was 2009's Swinging, Singing, Playing on the Mack Avenue label.