BASIE, Count: Circus In Rhythm
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Count Basie, Vol. 4
'Circus in Rhythm' - Radio Transcriptions and V-Discs 1944-1945
Due to a musicians union strike that was initially against all record labels, the Count Basie Orchestra, which was signed to Columbia, was unable to make any commercial recordings from August 1942 until 6 December 1944. Fortunately the band was well established and worked steadily during this period. Even more fortunate for today's listeners is that Basie appeared on the radio regularly, so broadcasts have survived, and his big band also recorded V-Discs (special recordings originally made only for American servicemen stationed abroad) and radio transcriptions which were not commercially available except for airplay. Volume 4 in this Basie collection concentrates on some of his most rewarding V-Discs and radio transcriptions dating from January 1944 to February 1945.
By 1944, Count Basie's band symbolized swing even though his orchestra did not originally catch on until the swing era was nearly two years old. Born Bill Basie on 21 August 1904 in Red Bank, New Jersey, he was originally inspired on piano by the masterful Fats Waller. Basie initially emulated Waller's virtuosic stride style even though he was never on his technical level or as much of an extrovert, and gradually over time he emerged with what he needed to form his own approach.
After playing locally in New Jersey and New York, Basie worked with travelling revues, most notably two years with the Gonzelle White Show. Although it looked like a bad break when the show ran out of money and broke up in Kansas City, it actually turned out very well for Basie who noticed that Kansas City had a great music scene and decided to stay. He worked for a time as an accompanist to silent movies, was a member of Walter Page's Blue Devils during 1928-29, and eventually joined the Bennie Moten Orchestra even though Moten was himself a pianist. Recognizing Basie's superiority, Moten reduced his own playing to brief appearances and used Basie on all of his dates and recordings.
Other than brief periods in which he tried to lead his own band, Basie was a member of the Bennie Moten Orchestra most of the time until Moten's death in 1935 from a botched tonsillectomy. Using a few of Moten's former sidemen along with a younger generation of players, Basie formed his Barons Of Rhythm and was dubbed 'Count' by a radio announcer. The long hours playing in Kansas City clubs could be gruelling but it allowed Basie and his men to form a new and swinging group sound. Basie pared down his own playing to the bare essentials, having the guitarist and string bassist keep the rhythm steady and encouraging his drummer to have a lighter touch. With Lester Young starring on tenor, the band had a hard-driving but floating feel that differed greatly from all of the other swing bands.
John Hammond, one of the swing era's top talent scouts and record producers, discovered the Basie Orchestra on a radio broadcast from the Reno Club. He flew out to Kansas City and persuaded Count to bring his band East to New York. Although the orchestra was not an immediate success, by mid-1937 it was on its way to the top. With such soloists as tenors Lester Young and Herschel Evans, trumpeters Buck Clayton and Harry 'Sweets' Edison, and trombonist Dickie Wells, not to mention the influential rhythm section of guitarist Freddie Green, bassist Walter Page, drummer Jo Jones and Basie himself, this was one of the great big bands of 1937-42.
Clayton and Page were in the military by early 1944 and Evans had passed on but the Count Basie Orchestra was still very much intact. Lester Young, after a three-year absence, had recently returned to the band while the great singer Jimmy Rushing was joined in the vocal department by Thelma Carpenter.
Down For Double gets the programme off to a rousing start. Drummer Shadow Wilson expertly fills in for Jo Jones, the Basie ensemble is distinct, and there are spots for the leader, trombonist Wells and tenor-saxophonist Buddy Tate, a member of the band since he succeeded Herschel Evans in 1939. The riff piece Rockabye Basie was always a feature for Tate who displays his tough Texas tenor sound, sounding a little reminiscent of Illinois Jacquet whom he actually preceded to the jazz major leagues. Altoist Earl Warren gets a brief spot and Harry 'Sweets' Edison takes the expressive trumpet solo.
Rockin' The Blues lives up to its name with some shouting ensembles, a touch of Basie's piano and solos by Edison, Warren, Lester Young and Wells. The then-recent Duke Ellington hit Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me puts the spotlight on Thelma Carpenter. Wiggle Woogie is back to the blues with fine stretching out from Basie with a chorus from Tate. Basie Boogie and Red Bank Boogie really do not feature that much boogie-woogie from Basie (his left hand was far too sparse to play with the locomotive power of Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson) but they show off his expertise with the blues at cooking tempos. Throughout his career Basie always loved to play the blues and he sometimes pretended that he could not play anything else although fans and fellow musicians knew better.
Kansas City Stride, which has no real striding by Basie but serves as another solid spot for his piano, also features statements from Warren, Edison, Rudy Rutherford on clarinet (an instrument rarely heard in the Basie band) and a relaxed Lester Young. Jo Jones, who was temporarily back with the band, provides some punctuations. Circus In Rhythm is built from a catchy riff and has a muted trumpet solo by Joe Newman, who became better known for his association with Basie in the 1950s. Young and Warren (who soloed infrequently and was content to lead the saxophone section) are also heard from.
Jimmy Rushing, Basie's vocalist during 1936-49 and a veteran of the Moten band, was the finest male singer to be heard regularly with a big band during the Swing era. Unlike most of the crooners who stuck to ballads, Rushing was a master at blues, rhythm tunes and standards. He is in fine form on Don Redman's Gee, Baby, Ain't I Good To You, even singing the rarely-heard verse. Basie Strides Again is actually Buck Clayton's "Avenue C" taken at an exciting pace. It features all of the key principals with solos from Basie, Wells, Tate, Edison and Young along with some stirring ensembles. While Let's Jump uses some familiar riffs, has a classic chorus by Young and an explosive spot for Joe Newman, Dickie Wells' Tush gives the composer and Young opportunities to interact with the ensembles.
By January 1945, Lucky Thompson had succeeded Young in the tenor chair and Shadow Wilson was back on drums. Jimmy Rushing stars on Jimmy's Blues, digging into the song with assistance from Wells' witty trombone. During an extended version of Taps Miller, Warren is followed by Tate, Edison, a screaming Wells and Lucky Thompson. Take Me Back, Baby is one of Rushing's more famous blues and Mister Five By Five is heard at the peak of his powers.
The catchy Just An Old Manuscript was regularly performed by the Basie band during 1944-45 although rarely afterwards. Playhouse No. 2 Stomp is really "I Got Rhythm". Basie even states the theme very briefly during the first chorus while Edison quotes "The Jeep Is Jumpin'&