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Count Basie Orchestra to Headline Fox Visalia October 11

 

Last updated 9/2/2019 at 6:43pm | View PDF

The Count Basie Orchestra today

In the history of jazz music, there is only one bandleader with the distinction of having his orchestra still performing sold out concerts all over the world more than 30 years after his passing, still with band members chosen by him. Pianist and bandleader William James "Count" Basie was and still is an American institution that personifies the grandeur of jazz.

The Count Basie Orchestra, with guest vocalist Carmen Bradford, will headline the Visalia Fox Theatre on Friday, October 11.

The orchestra, today under the direction of Scotty Barnhart, has won every respected jazz poll in the world at least once, won 18 Grammy Awards. They have performed for kings, queens and other royalty, appeared in several movies and television shows, and at every major jazz festival and major concert hall in the world.

Their latest honors are the 2018 Downbeat Readers Poll Award as the #1 Jazz Orchestra in the world, and a Grammy nomination for their 2018 recording, "All About That Basie," which features special guests Stevie Wonder, Jon Faddis, Take 6 and Kurt Elling, among others. This follows their critically acclaimed 2015 release, "A Very Swingin' Basie Christmas!," the first holiday album in the 80-year history of the orchestra. Released on Concord Music, it went to #1 on the jazz charts and sold out on Amazon. Special guests included vocalists Johnny Mathis, Ledisi, Carmen Bradford and pianist Ellis Marsalis.

A full-length documentary on Basie and the orchestra was completed by the BBC Television Network and is slated for worldwide release in 2020, which will be the orchestra's 85th anniversary.

Some of the greatest soloists, composers, arrangers and vocalists in jazz history, including Lester Young, Billie Holiday, Frank Foster, Thad Jones, Sonny Payne, Freddie Green, Snooky Young, Frank Wess and Joe Williams, became international stars once they began working with the legendary Count Basie Orchestra. The 18-member orchestra is still continuing the legacy of stomping and shouting the blues, as well as refining those musical particulars that allow for the deepest and most moving of swing.

William "Count" Basie was born in Red Bank, New Jersey in 1904. He began his early playing days by working as a silent movie pianist and organist and by eventually working with the Theater Owners Booking Agency circuit, sometimes referred to as the "chitlin' circuit" that catered primarily to the African-American communities in the South, East and Midwest. In 1927, Basie, then touring with Gonzelle White and the Big Jazz Jamboree, found himself stranded in Kansas City. It was here that he would begin to explore his deep love of the blues, and meet his future band mates including bassist Walter Page.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Kansas City was headquarters for the territory bands that played the Midwest and Southwest. It was also ground zero for the heady mixture of blues, 4/4 swing rhythms and hot instrumentalists that were to become the standard bearers and precursors for the Swing Era and the underlying rhythm of modern jazz. Walter Page's Blue Devils and Benny Moten's Kansas City Orchestra caught Basie's ear and soon he was playing with both, and serving as second pianist and arranger for Moten.

In 1935, Bennie Moten died and it was left to Basie to take some of the musicians from that orchestra and form his own. The Count Basie Orchestra, which is still alive and well today some 84 years later, epitomized Kansas City Swing and, along with the bands of Fletcher Henderson, Jimmy Lunceford, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, his orchestra would define the Big Band Era.

While the media of the period crowned Goodman the "King of Swing," many considered Count Basie to be the real King of Swing. As Basie trumpeter Sweets Edison once said, "We used to tear all of the other bands up when it came to swing. The basic fundamentals of Basie's orchestra were and still are foot-stomping 4/4 swing, an unparalleled use of dynamic contrasts, shouting the blues at any tempo, and just making one want to dance."

The Basie Orchestra evolved into one of the most venerable and viable enterprises in American music with continued productivity rivaling any musical organization in history.

The Count Basie Orchestra can be viewed between 1935 and 1955 as the "Old Testament" and "New Testament" bands. The Old Testament band's style was a combination of spontaneously developed riff-driven, or "head" arrangements, full of the blues and relaxed, but intense swing that showcased a some of the greatest names in jazz history: Lester Young, Hershel Evans, Harry Edison, Buck Clayton, Dicky Wells, Jo Jones, Freddie Green and Jimmy Rushing.

The New Testament Count Basie Orchestra was formed circa 1952 after Basie's brief hiatus from the full orchestra, when he was working with a small group of six to seven musicians during the industry-imposed recording ban that began in 1948.

The sound of the orchestra was constantly deepening and getting more precise as each series of non-stop tours was completed. One of the things setting Basie's orchestra apart from others is that Basie actually encouraged his musicians to compose and arrange especially for the orchestra and its distinctive soloists such as Snooky Young, Thad Jones, Frank Foster and Frank Wess on flute, who recorded the very first jazz flute solo in history.

Eddie Durham, Thad Jones, Ernie Wilkins, Quincy Jones, Neal Hefti, Sammy Nestico, and Frank Foster, to name a few of the more prominent Basie arrangers, have added volumes to the Basie library. Through them, the Basie repertoire continued to broaden harmonically and rhythmically, making it more than hospitable to the talents of the successive generations of musicians. The orchestra also began to become the first choice for the top jazz vocalists of the day including Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett and Basie's "Number One Son," Joe Williams.

As Basie allowed for a certain measure of change and for a variety of voices to emerge on the platform he created, his orchestra's repertoire always remained accessible, interesting and ultimately perfect for dancing. This can be seen in a popular motion picture of 1960, "Cinderfella," starring Jerry Lewis. For the biggest scene in the movie, which required the perfect orchestra to dance to at the ball, Lewis chose The Count Basie Orchestra. This movie was seen by millions and led to presidential inaugural ball perfomances and private parties of the world's elite from New York to Bangkok, Thailand, to St. Tropez in the south of France.

During the 1960s and 1970s and into the 1980s, the orchestra's sound, swing feel, general articulation and style began to become more laid back and more relaxed. As 30-year veteran trumpeter Sonny Cohn once slowly said, "This is a laid...back...orchestra....a...laid...back...orchestra."

The "Old Testament" Count Basie Orchestra

With very few personnel changes, the orchestra members were able to blend into one sound and one way of phrasing that is now known as the "Basie way." Jazz orchestras all over the world began to emulate this way of playing, with a deceptive suspension of time and rhythm, but with a sound that is infectious and never loses that all-important dance element. In simple terms, the Count Basie Orchestra continued to set a precedent in 4/4 swing at any tempo – swing is that intangible that makes you tap your foot.

Since Basie's passing in 1984, Thad Jones, Frank Foster, Grover Mitchell, Bill Hughes, Dennis Mackrel and now Scotty Barnhart have led the Count Basie Orchestra and maintained it as one of the elite performing organizations in Jazz.

For tickets or more information, call (559) 625-1369 or visit http://www.foxvisalia.org.

 

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