Saturday, April 19, 2014
With the Count Basie Orchestra set to close out the 2014 Greater St. Louis Jazz Festival with a concert on Saturday, April 26 at the Touhill Performing Arts Center, our mission here today is a simple one: To share performances of a half-dozen of the most famous and enduring arrangements from the Basie band's repertoire.
Although the band's appearance here will mark 30 years to the day since Basie himself passed away, a series of musicians steeped in the Count's particular musical ethos has continued to direct them in steady touring and the occasional recording, keeping these songs alive for new generations of jazz fans.
Most recently, trumpeter Scott Barnhart, who's played with the Basie band for more than 20 years, took over the leadership last year, and the current pianist is none other than former St. Louisan Reggie Thomas, who now lives and teaches in Michigan. (While Thomas is back in St. Louis next week, he'll also perform on Thursday night at Jazz at the Bistro, co-leading a small group with bassist Rodney Whitaker to kick off the GSLJF.)
You can read a brief history of the Basie orchestra on their website, linked above, but for a more in-depth look at the man and the band, Rutgers University's digital exhibit "One More Once: A Centennial Celebration of the Life and Music of Count Basie." is a fine place to start.
As for our survey of some of Basie's best, the first video clip up above is from a 1943 feature film called Reveille with Beverly, and depicts Basie and the band performing "One O'Clock Jump," a propulsive exercise in blues riffing that served as their theme song in the early years. Although obviously pre-recorded and staged for purposes of the film, it's still a reasonable approximation of what they must have looked and sounded like back then.
Though the blues was central to the first edition of the Basie band, after World War II a "New Testament" version of the group emerged, powered by a more diverse selection of charts from arrangers such as Neal Hefti and Frank Foster, who also played tenor sax in the group and would serve as director for several years after Basie's death.
Hefti's "Li'l Darlin'," shown in the second video in a version recorded in 1960 in Milan, demonstrated that the Basie band could play a delicate ballad as well as swing the blues, and it remains one of the single most beloved pieces in their songbook. The trumpet solo is by Sonny Cohn.
Below that are two selections from a program that Basie recorded in 1965 for the BBC. "Jumpin' at the Woodside" is perhaps Basie's most famous uptempo flag-waver, and in this version, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis gets off a blistering tenor sax solo that almost brings down the house.
After that, it's "April in Paris," with a signature arrangement devised by organist Wild Bill Davis that features a fake ending - or sometimes, multiple fake endings - followed by the Count cuing the band to hit it "one more time," which you can see at the 2:37 mark in this particular clip.
The last two videos are from a show in 1981 at NYC's Carnegie Hall. Frank Foster's "Shiny Stockings" is another perennial favorite dating back to the 1950s version of the band, and is heard here at a somewhat brisker tempo than on the original studio version.
The final number, "Every Day I Have The Blues," takes the Basie orchestra back to its roots, backing singer Joe Williams in what many jazz fans consider to be the definitive version of this blues standard (which, incidentally, was written and originally recorded by St. Louis pianist Pinetop Sparks).
You can see the rest of today's videos after the jump...