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Count Basie
Count Basie


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Count Basie, "Flight of the Foo Birds"

 at a glance...

Hometown: Redbank, NJ
First Recordings: 1934

Wendell Culley, Snooky Young, Thad Jones, Joe Newman - trumpets
Henry Coker, Al Grey, Benny Powell - trombone
Marshall Royal, Frank Wess, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Frank Foster, Charles Fowlkes -reeds
Count Basie - piano
Frankie Green - guitar
Eddie Jones - bass
Sonny Payne - drums
Joe Williams - vocals

Count Basie worked in bassist Walter Page's Blue Devils from 1925 to 1931. At this point, an interesting game of musical chairs began: Basie and other Blue Devils left Page to join Bennie Moten's band. Eventually, with his best men gone, Page made the same leap to Moten. When Moten passed away, Page and Basie battled for control, with Basie winning out. Any way you cut it, all of these men were instrumental in defining Kansas City's blues-heavy swing music. Count Basie's 1930s ensemble remains one of jazz's most beloved, producing stars from Lester Young to Jimmy Rushing. Basie pared down his band during the war years, but emerged in the late 1950s to produce some of his most remarkable work. He led a variety of small supergroups for Norman Granz's Pablo label until his death in 1984. 
Count Basie

Count Basie
The Complete Atomic Basie
Roulette/Capitol, Recorded 1957
Bristling with excitement and electricity, this album represents the finest accomplishment of Count Basie's "New Testament" big band. His "Old Testament" band of the late 1930s, featuring stars Lester Young, Herschel Evans, Dickie Wells, and Buck Clayton, perfected the blues-drenched, straight 4/4 rhythm of Kansas City swing. Building off of the blues foundation, his 1950s band featured more ambitious compositions, a more dynamic sound, and incorporated more modern developments. One constant, however, is the anchoring rhythm guitar of Freddie Green, who sets the tone for all by leading the rock-solid rhythm section. Neal Hefti, the primary composer and arranger here, marvelously captures the strengths of each individual musician. His exuberant and lively arrangements are clever and innovative without ever being overblown or overthought. 

Basie opens "Kid from Red Bank" with a wonderful stride-piano solo and complements the band perfectly with his accents on the mid-tempo blues, "Splanky." On "Double-O," the Count offers a typically restrained piano intro, choosing each note as if he had to pay for each separately. Tenor "Lockjaw" Davis, who was only in the band for a relatively short period, offers the most valuable and vital solo contributions. His beefy sound recalls Ben Webster on the aptly named slow blues "After Supper." The band reverts to the happy, swinging 1930s sound on "Flight of the Foo Birds," as Davis follows Frank Wess' fluid alto break with another dramatic turn, squeaking and honking like an R&B man. The trumpet duo of Joe Newman and Thad Jones growls the band through the relaxed "Duet," and on the classic ballad "Li'l Darlin'", the band offers its lines in beautifully subdued, almost delayed fashion. Hefti's arrangements sparkle on the up tunes and create vivid and exotic moods on the slower ones. 

Two songs from the same session feature Jimmy Mundy arrangements, including the mysterious "Sleepwalker's Serenade," and Joe Williams includes his effortless vocal on "The Late Late Show." All the while, Basie subtly but firmly steers the ship from his piano bench, just as he had two decades earlier. 

If you like Count Basie, check out:
Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis Train Whistle
Count Basie The Complete Decca Recordings might wanna check out our swing links for more features on swing artists.

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