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Basie band crowns K-State's jazz week

story by RUSSELL FORTMEYER
photos by DARREN WHITLEY


The Count Basie Orchestra sight-reads "Graves Groove" during the Saturday afternoon rehearsal in McCain Auditorium. "Graves Groove" was dedicated to Gov. Bill Graves.


It's been a long road since its start in Kansas City, but the Count Basie Orchestra made it to Manhattan Saturday night to knock McCain Auditorium off its rocker.

The concert, definitely not the Basie band's first in Manhattan and hopefully not their last, concluded the K-State Jazz Festival and what had been a week full of jazz-related events.

It was only natural to save the best for last.

Led by conductor Grover Mitchell, the Basie band sounded as dynamic as if the Count himself were still seated at the piano.

Roaring through standards such as "All of Me" and "Kansas City" -- a must for any repertoire in these parts -- the orchestra kept the good name of big bands more than intact.

Having some of the most excellent, not to mention loyal (so many of them have been with the band for many years, if not decades), musicians in the business helps.

The entire trumpet section, consisting of Derrick Gardner, Michael P. Williams, Robert Ojeda, and William Barnhart, literally shined with their special brassy tribute to the Count, "Four for Basie." Their ambitiousness and solid sound rendered the microphone useless. This band's level doesn't need amplification.

Kenny Hing, tenor saxophone, glistened in so many numbers it's hard to pin one down. But his sax tooting in "Sweet Georgia Brown" could have melted butter in the balcony.

The success of this concert is tribute to Count Basie's vision and genius. It's also a reminder big bands will never die and that a sold-out audience proves we truly love and support jazz, especially locally.

And what a friend do local jazz fans have in Dennis Wilson. The organizer of the jazz festival, and the primary reason the Basie Orchestra graced McCain's stage, Wilson joined the band in the second half of the show to conduct his own composition, "Graves Groove."

The song was written to honor Gov. Bill Graves, who was not in attendance.

Brad Bryant, a student from Clearwater High School, was selected from the student festival participants to play "Groove" with the band. His lengthy saxophone solo showed great promise and fit smoothly into the sounds of the orchestra -- though I'm sure his knees were a bit shaken.

For the finale, the K-State Jazz Ensemble joined the Basie band in a Wilson-arranged take on the Basie staple "1 O'clock Jump."

Written especially for the two bands, the presentation ranks as the best jam session of the year. The spirited energy and the complementary sounds from each band brought the audience to its feet. Having the experience localized made it all the more rewarding.

As part of the show, a ceremony and plaque presentation to the orchestra was done as part of Graves' proclamation of February 3 as "Count Basie Day."

Near the close of the show, Wilson hinted the Count Basie Orchestra in conjunction with the jazz festival could become an annual event.

We'd only be so lucky.

Dennis Wilson, director of jazz studies, makes changes in the score of "Wildcat Victory Swing" as Brad Bryant, of Clearwater High School, stands in with the Count Basie Orchestra during rehearsal Saturday afternoon in McCain Auditorium. Bryant was the featured high school soloist during the Saturday evening performance by the Count Basie Orchestra.


See the related story:

Band shares memories, influence of Basie Genius


This article was published on Monday, February 5, 1996

Copyright 1996, Student Publications Inc. All rights reserved.
This document may be distributed electronically, provided it is distributed in its entirety and includes this notice. However, it cannot be reprinted without the express written permission of Student Publications Inc., Kansas State University.

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