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8.120819 - BASIE, Count: Coming Out Party (1940 - 1942)
COUNT BASIE Vol.3
‘Coming Out Party’ Original Recordings 1940-1942
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 the mid-1950s.
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, Café 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 volume.
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