BASIE, Count: Rock-A-Bye Basie

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'Rock-A-Bye Basie' Original Recordings 1939-1940

Count Basie was not only one of the giants ofthe swing era but his big band has alwaysdefined swing. Although Basie first came toprominence more than a year after BennyGoodman launched the swing era, his orchestrasoon became extremely influential and not onlyuplifted swing but led the way towards bebop(in the realignment of its rhythm section) andcool jazz (in the soft tone of tenor-saxophonistLester Young).

Bill Basie was born 21 August 1904 in RedBank, New Jersey. As a teenager he wasencouraged by Fats Waller who became his earlymentor as a stride pianist and one whopersuaded him to also play organ. Basie startedhis career working locally in New Jersey and NewYork, including with the bands of June Clark andElmer Snowden. By 1925 he was on the road,working with travelling revues including spendingtwo years touring with the Gonzelle White Show.

When the show broke up in Kansas City and hewas stranded without any money, Basie gained ajob playing piano, accompanying silent movies.

He checked out the local music situation with itsvery active after-hours scene, liked what he saw,and decided to stay.

In 1928 Basie became a member of WalterPage's Blue Devils and the following year joinedthe Bennie Moten Orchestra, the finest big bandin Kansas City. Moten, himself a pianist,thought so highly of Basie's playing that he usedhim on all of his recordings during 1929-32.

Other than a brief period in 1934, Basieremained with Moten until the latter's death in1935 from a botched tonsillectomy. A shorttime later, Basie began leading the Barons ofRhythm. He gained his lifelong nickname of\Count" from a radio announcer.

Beginning with a nucleus from the Motenband, Basie soon had a swinging outfit featuringsinger Jimmy Rushing, drummer Jo Jones,trumpeter Buck Clayton and tenor-saxophonistLester Young. Talent scout/producer JohnHammond heard the band broadcasting fromthe Reno Club on radio station W9XBY onenight in 1936, flew immediately to Kansas Cityand persuaded Basie to take his band east.

Basie added a few new members so his ensemblewould be considered a full-fledged orchestra andit took a half-year of struggle before theensemble solidified. But by mid-1937, theCount Basie Orchestra was a hit in New Yorkand impressing everyone.

This reissue begins on 19 March 1939, morethan two years after Basie had left Kansas City.

By then the Basie band was established as oneof the top swing orchestra in the music world.

Basie had pared his piano style down to thebarest essentials and developed into a master atusing space and making every note count. Withguitarist Freddie Green and bassist Walter Pagecontributing a steady four-to-the-bar rhythm,drummer Jo Jones was free to lighten his style(de-emphasizing the use of the bass drum) andthe Basie band had the appearance of floatingeven when swinging hard. The contrasting tenortones of Lester Young (who had a revolutionarylighter-than-air sound) and the harder style ofBuddy Tate, who had recently succeeded the lateHerschel Evans, added to the excitement as didsuch key soloists as trumpeters Buck Claytonand Harry "Sweets" Edison and trombonistDickie Wells.

Rock-A-Bye Basie, a riffing melody thatsounds so spontaneous that it seems as if itcould have been made up on the spot, gets thisset off to a rollicking start. Buddy Tate andHarry "Sweets" Edison have swinging solos andthere are brief spots for altoist Earl Warren andthe Basie rhythm section.

Most swing bands that employed a malesinger used the vocalist for romantic ballads andsentimental pop tunes. Basie was very lucky tohave Jimmy Rushing, an infectious blues andswing singer who was as notable as any of theband's soloists. Rushing makes fourappearances on this program including on themedium-tempo blues Baby, Don't Tell On Mewhich also has contributions from Buck Claytonand Dickie Wells. The comparatively mellowJump For Me has a brief spot for a trombonist(probably Benny Morton) and Tate, with Edisonand Basie getting the main solos.

Twelfth Street Rag, which was already avintage song by 1939, was an off-the-wall choicefor Basie to record. Count does not take thesong all that seriously but Lester Young digs inand creates a classic solo that could have beentwice as long; Sweets fares well too.

Helen Humes, one of the finest vocalists toemerge from the big bands, often had to fightwith Rushing in order to get good songs to singbecause she was expert at singing the same typeof blues and standards as "Mr. Five By Five".

And The Angels Sing, a hit for Benny Goodmanin 1939, shows off her warm voice.

The Count Basie band often gave theimpression that they could jam for twentyminutes on a song without running out of ideas,but they were restricted by the three-minute timelimit of the usual 78 record. Miss Thing has theorchestra stretching out a bit as this originalbased on the chord changes of "HoneysuckleRose" was originally issued on two sides of a 78.

Young, Clayton, Tate, Wells and Earl Warrenmake short statements but the emphasis is onthe ensembles. Nobody Knows has Basieswitching to the eerie-sounding pipe organ,something he did on rare occasions throughouthis career. Rushing wails the blues withcommentary provided by Wells' trombone. Backon piano, Basie leads the band through a briskerblues, Pound Cake, that has fine spots forbaritonist Jack Washington, Warren, Claytonand Young. Leroy Carr's How Long Blues, asong that practically defined the term 'bluesballad', finds Basie and Clayton setting thestage for Jimmy Rushing.

Since many of the recordings by the CountBasie Orchestra have the big band emulating asmall group, it was only natural that on anoccasional basis Basie would record with someof his top soloists in a smaller combo. Hissession of 5 September 1939 with his KansasCity Seven resulted in a couple classics namedafter his sidemen, Dickie's Dream and LesterLeaps In. The eccentric Wells, the lyricalClayton and Young are the co-stars on Dickie'sDream while Young (who was nicknamed Presfor being the president of the tenor) dominatesLester Leaps In, which became one of histrademark songs.

The sombre minor blues I Left My Baby hassome memorable singing from Rushing andsuperb backup work from Young. The jumpingRiff Interlude is a much more joyous type ofblues, featuring Tate, Edison, Young and Basie.

Helen Humes returns for Between The DevilAnd The Deep Blue Sea, sounding a little likeMildred Bailey in her phrasing. That numberalso has brief statements by Edison, thelaidback Young and Basie. Easy Does It is theepitome of cool, Basie's brand of relaxed butsolid swinging. Clayton, Young and Edison star.

Let Me See is a romp that puts Tate, Basie,trombonist Vic Dickenson and Young in thespotlight.

With the addition of altoist Tab Smith tothe band in May 1940, the Count BasieOrchestra had eight major soloists (countingClayton, Edison, Wells, Dickenson, Young, Tateand Basie) plus several others who were quitecapable of being in the lead. The romping BlowTop has Smith, Basie, Edison and Dickensonmaking short statements but Lester Youngstealing the show. Gone With 'What' Wind is ablues that had its origin on a Benny GoodmanSextet session with Basie as guest pianist.

Basie, Tate, Dickenson solo on this version.

Finally the collection closes with Super Chiefwhich has one final statement from Tate andEdison.

Rock-A-Bye Basie has nineteen of the verybest Count Basie recordings from a fifteenmonthperiod. Still just 36 at the time of SuperChief, Count Basie had 43 more years ofmusical accomplishments ahead of him.

Scott Yanow

- author of eight jazz books including Swing, JazzOn Fil
Disc: 1
Super Chief
1 Rock-A-Bye Basie
2 Baby, Don't Tell On Me
3 Jump For Me
4 Twelfth Street Rag
5 And The Angels Sing
6 Miss Thing
7 Nobody Knows
8 Pound Cake
9 How Long Blues
10 Dickie's Dream
11 Lester Leaps In
12 I Left My Baby
13 Riff Interlude
14 Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea
15 Easy Does It
16 Let Me See
17 Blow Top
18 Gone With "What" Wind
19 Super Chief
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