Count Basie this week. From his stint at Birdland in the Summer of 1956, and as broadcast as part of the weekly All-Star Parade of Jazz series on NBC Radio in July of 1956.
At a time when Big-Bands had fallen largely out of favor in a live setting – due to changing tastes and the increasingly prohibitive economics of putting a Big Band on the road, Count Basie’s band was one of the few still flourishing and still high on the popularity charts. Along with Duke Ellington, Count Basie had a treasure trove of sidemen who were notable artists in their own right, who enjoyed solo and small group endeavors outside the regular framework of the band. It was also the wide-ranging style of the band, folding Big-Band in with jump-Blues and employing stand-out Blues vocalists like Joe Williams and Jimmy Rushing, made it a band that kept things fresh and current. They could be nostalgic if they wanted to be, but with contemporary classics like April In Paris in the book, and with the wave in popularity of Rock n’ Roll and Rhythm & Blues – Basie was keeping up with trends.
It was this freshness of approach that made the Basie band popular throughout the rest of the world around this time. Tours of the UK eventually became European tours and audiences, particularly in France where Basie was hailed and played sold-out venues everywhere, signified a new chapter and a whole new appreciation for his work.
Count Basie’s influence on Jazz and early Rock n’ Roll can’t be underestimated. It was this overall willingness to try new things that made Count Basie the household name and the Icon he became.
If you aren’t familiar – or just getting your feet wet around Jazz – Count Basie is essential listening. Crank it up and have a listen.