Basie’s Birthday Bash!
A few thoughts about why we’re so high on Count Basie that we’re devoting an evening to his music on August 27th. First, in the words of the Count himself, we expect it to be a “hot sock dance.” That’s what happens to your socks when you wear through both your soles, and Basie’s music will do that if anything can. Second, we enjoy the history, contrasting the sounds of the band that arrived on the national scene fresh out of “the Styx” with the polished ensemble that backed Sinatra at the Sands in Vegas.
Born August 21, 1904, in Red Bank, New Jersey, Bill Basie picked up his nickname “Count” in Kansas City in the days when KC was a Depression-proof cow-town with wall-to-wall music. Discovered via a tiny radio station’s live remote broadcasts, he brought the band to New York in 1936. After that, he “never had a bad night” until the end of the Swing Era in 1949, when he briefly led an octet. Re-forming (the “New Testament” band) in 1951, Basie was pretty much on the road until his 1984 passing.
Why do musicians hold Basie in such high regard? In a word – Swingin’est! His poll-winning rhythm section of the late 1930s was known as the “All-American Rhythm Section” – Drummer Jo Jones moved the foundational sound from drums to the cymbals, creating a smoother feel. Bassist Walter Page pioneered the Walking Bass, a kind of 4/4 bass line that always feels like it’s leading you somewhere. Guitarist Freddie Green is to this day the model for rhythm guitarists worldwide. And Basie pared down his piano-playing so he could time his notes to uncannily tickle your insides. Collectively, these four could move dancers’ feet and musicians’ spirits like no others.
But there’s more. The pressure cooker that was Kansas City produced Swingin’ ensembles and inspired soloists; Basie was tops in both. His roster is a Jazz Who’s Who: Singers Jimmy Rushing, Billie Holiday, Helen Humes and Joe Williams, trombonists Eddie Durham, Dickie Wells, Vic Dickenson, and Al Grey, trumpeters Hot Lips Page, Buck Clayton, Sweets Edison, Clark Terry, and Thad Jones, reed men Earle Warren, Jack Washington, Buddy DeFranco, Marshall Royal – and all those great tenors – Herschel Evans, Buddy Tate, Don Byas, Illinois Jacquet, Paul Gonsalves, Wardell Gray, Frank Wess, Frank Foster, Lockjaw Davis, Jimmy Forrest, and the tenor sax voice that turned the rudder of jazz history – Lester Young, Prez. This combination of Swingin’ ensemble and hot soloists defined Basie’s Old Testament band.
The New Testament group was known for a more polished product, but with that same compelling Swing feel at its core. Arrangers became the stars as the ensemble settled into its patented groove. Writers like Quincy Jones, Frank Foster, Neal Hefti, and Sammy Nestico set the table for the Basie feast of sound. At Glen Echo we’ll particularly focus on the arrangements of Foster, who passed away last month.
So you won’t want to miss it, and you will want to tell your friends: Basie’s Birthday Bash, Spanish Ballroom, 8-12, Saturday, August 27th, adult admission $15 (cheap). This event is presented in cooperation with Glen Echo Partnership for Arts and Culture Inc., the National Park Service, and Montgomery County. Be there or be square.
Posted in Tom Cunningham News