BASIE, Count: Coming Out Party
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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 theirearly prime. Although the band's key soloist,Lester Young, had departed under mysteriouscircumstances, the Basie crew was consideredthe definitive swing orchestra and was setting thepace for all other jazz big bands.
Born 21 August 1904 in Red Bank, NewJersey, Bill Basie started on piano early in life andwas initially inspired by the great stride pianistFats Waller who was only three months older.
Although not the virtuoso that Waller was, Basietook what appealed to him from Fats' happystyle and came up with his own stride style. Overthe years he greatly pared down his approachuntil he was left with the absolute essentials.
Basie started out playing locally in New Jerseyand New York, most notably with the bands ofJune Clark and Elmer Snowden. Hitting the road,he worked with travelling revues including twoyears touring with the Gonzelle White Show.
When that production broke up in Kansas City,leaving Basie stranded, he noted that the localmusic scene was full of great potential. Basiedecided to stick around and, after working as anaccompanist to silent movies, in 1928 he joinedWalter Page's Blue Devils. After a year ofperforming with that struggling band, he acceptedan offer to join Bennie Moten's Orchestra, whichwas considered the finest big band of the Midwest.
What was odd is that Moten was himselfa pianist but, after hiring Basie, he reduced hisown playing to brief appearances, using Basie onall of his own recordings and band dates.
Basie made his recording debut with Motenand a 1932 session hints strongly at the futureCount Basie Orchestra. Although he broke awayfor a short time, Basie stayed with Moten's bandfor most of the time up until Bennie Moten'sdeath in 1935 from a botched tonsillectomy.
Soon afterwards he put together his own BaronsOf 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 talentscout/producer John Hammond when he hearda broadcast from the Reno Club on radio stationW9XBY. Hammond flew to Kansas City andpersuaded Count to bring his band to New York.
Although the orchestra suffered some growingpains when they added some new musicians andhad to solidify their arrangements (many ofwhich had previously been made up on thespot), by mid-1937 the Count Basie Orchestrawas outswinging all of its competitors.
Basie continued to build on his success duringthe next few years. Even after Lester Youngdeparted, the Basie band was a powerhouse withsuch major soloists as trumpeters Buck Claytonand Harry 'Sweets' Edison, trombonist DickieWells, Don Byas and Buddy Tate on tenors,altoist Tab Smith and Basie himself, not tomention singer Jimmy Rushing. All are heardfrom during this collection which has some ofBasie's most rewarding recordings from 1941-42.
'Coming Out Party' begins with Earl Warren's9:20 Special. After brief spots for Tab Smith,Basie and Edison, guest tenor-saxophonistColeman Hawkins sounds quite at home, roaringwith the Basie band.
Goin' To Chicago Blues would be identifiedwith Joe Williams when he began singing withthe Basie orchestra in the mid-1950s, but thisrendition has Jimmy Rushing in the spotlight anda near-classic solo by Buck Clayton. Speaking ofClayton, he is showcased throughout Fiesta InBlue, playing in his typically distinctive style,improvising around the melody with such subtletythat it is difficult to know what was written outand what was spontaneous; he always thoughtlike an arranger. Both of these versions of Goin'To Chicago Blues and Fiesta In Blue were turnedinto vocalese by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross inthe mid-1950s.
Paul Robeson had many skills in his life andhe was a hero to African-Americans, but he neverattempted to be a jazz singer. The closest hecame was during the two-part tribute toheavyweight champion Joe Louis titled King Joe.
What a deep voice!Although it was not a hit, Jimmy Mundy'sFeather Merchant is a perfect example why theBasie band was considered so great. A simplemedium-tempo blues, Feather Merchant is fullof riffing by the horns, has solos that emergelogically from the ensembles, and includes agenerous slice of the percussive Basie piano.
Jimmy Rushing, the top male vocalistfeatured regularly with a big band during theswing era, was at his best on blues although hewas quite effective on standards and ballads too.
Rushing is assisted by trombonist Dickie Wellson the memorable Harvard Blues. Coming OutParty and the laidback Basie Blues show off theensemble strength of the Basie band whileRushing returns for an encore on a Louis Jordanhit, I'm Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town.
The next eight selections put the spotlight onthe Count Basie rhythm section, with trumpeterBuck Clayton and tenor-saxophonist Don Byasmaking the group a sextet on four of thenumbers. Although Basie was always verymodest about his piano playing, his style by 1942was an important link between stride piano andbebop. Basie believed in making every notecount so, rather than 'striding' back and forthwith his left-hand to keep time, he left so muchspace that bassist Walter Page had a major roleand the string bass grew greatly in significance injazz combos. Basie's right hand played ideasthat sounded simple but displayed his perfecttime. With Freddie Green stating a quiet fourfourrhythm on his chordal guitar and Jo Jonesemphasizing cymbals over the bass drum, theCount Basie rhythm section had a very light feeland its own sound. The rhythm section floatedyet swung hard, even at a low volume.
Even with the emphasis on the blues (theword 'blues' is in each of the date's eightselections), there is plenty of variety to be heardduring the 24 July 1942 session. Royal GardenBlues shows off its roots in 1920s jazz, HowLong Blues is a lowdown blues, Bugle Blues(which is really \Bugle Call Rag") has someheated breaks and riffing and Sugar Blues istaken as a ballad. Farewell Blues has WalterPage taking a key role, Cafe Society Blues isreminiscent of both "One O'Clock Jump" andlate 1930s boogie-woogie, Way Back Blues livesup to its name and St Louis Blues is the Basietreatment to the most famous of all blues.
Completing this set is a slightly earlier performance,the two-part The World Is Mad fromthe 1940 Count Basie Orchestra. Buddy Tate,Dickie Wells, the great tenor-saxophonist LesterYoung and Basie are the soloists, but the realstar is the always-swinging Count Basie Orchestra.
There would be many musical thrillsthroughout Basie's life during the next fortyyears until his death in 1984. Some of the mostenjoyable moments are to be heard on thisvolume.Scott Yanow
- author of 9 jazz books including Jazz On Film, Swing,
Bebop, Trumpet Kings and Jazz On Record 1917-76