Count Basie: Article by Bob Bernotas

Count Basie: Article by Bob Bernotas

In 1935, pianist William “Count” Basie (born August 21, 1904), a fixture on the Kansas City jazz scene since the late 1920s, organized his own rocking, riffing, blues-based big band. The following year this freewheeling unit came east and took New York by storm. For the next decade and a half, Basie’s stellar cast—which included such original jazz stylists as tenor saxophonists Lester Young and Herschel Evans, trumpeters Buck Clayton and Harry “Sweets” Edison, trombonist Dickie Wells, drummer Jo Jones, and singer Jimmy Rushing—set the standard for big band swing.

Basie broke up the band in 1950 and formed an all-star septet. But he missed the power and glory of sixteen men swinging, so in the fall of 1951 the Count began to reassemble his orchestra. Founded on an ever-growing book of first-rate charts by top-rung arrangers like Neal Hefti, Ernie Wilkins, and Quincy Jones, his new edition evolved into an ensemble of amazing strength and precision, but also one of many moods and colors, as strong at pianissimo as it was at fortissimo , as swinging at slow tempos as it was at fast ones. But make no mistake, this reborn unit was packed with accomplished soloists. One by one, the Count brought in trombonists Benny Powell, Henry Coker, and Al Grey, trumpeters Joe Newman and Thad Jones, and the tenor saxophone tandem of Frank Foster and Frank Wess, all modern, bop-inspired improvisors who also were completely at home in the Basie idiom.

Through the ’60s, the ’70s, and into the ’80s, the Basie band remained the definition of big band jazz. And even after his death on April 26, 1984, The Count Basie Orchestra continued to record and tour under the leadership of three of its most distinguished alumni: first Thad Jones, then Frank Foster, and, from 1995 to 2003, trombonist Grover Mitchell…

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