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Nifty Fifties: Basie and Washington

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Count Basie at Newport
Count Basie
1957

Those who already own April in Paris and The Atomic Mr. Basie already have the best of the fifties Basie band. However, a live Newport set has a large amount of appeal no matter who the artist is, since most recordings from the various festivals are excellent performances with reasonable sound quality. However, the clear attraction for the patrons at the time (and listeners today) is the return of several Basie alumni to the band, a group which was already well stocked with talent to begin with. Sidemen like Thad Jones, Frank Wess, and Frank Foster mastered the old charts but weren’t afraid to spiff up the old riffs with a post bop lick or two. But clearly the night belonged to the veterans, who dominate the soloing time and are given the opportunity to take another crack at their showcase tunes.

Lester Young is the first to get his turn, yet given the time period understandably can’t quite live up to the moment. Ill health had worn away the luster of his playing, and he employs a style that Dick Hyman aptly describes as “weary-but-still-trying”. Still, there’s an undeniable charm in hearing Young have a go at “Lester Leaps In” once again, and one can imagine that the reappearance of Young was enough to satisfy most of the crowd.

Much more rewarding is the return of vocalists Jimmy Rushing and Joe Williams, both of whom made their classic recordings while with Basie. The rugged shout of Rushing and tawny baritone of Williams couldn’t be more different, but backed by pinpoint blues riffs, they deliver the type of fun enthusiasm and bravado that plays well to a live crowd. (The only drawback is that Rushing’s mike level is too low, giving the effect that he’s shouting over Young.) It might seem surprising that an all-star version of “One O’Clock Jump” is a letdown, for that should have been the real showstopper and a hell of a closer, but sadly, the returning soloists don’t quite live up to the expectation. Young ambles through a few choruses while Eldridge is over exuberant, and only Jacquet provides the right amount of showmanship tempered with artistry.

In the end, Basie’s set was a perfect ending for the festival, providing a sure-fire crowd pleasing set that didn’t challenge the audience. It was an entertaining reunion and an appropriate reminder of when jazz was concerned with making sure everyone had a good time.

After Hours With Miss “D”
Dinah Washington
1954

The Verve catalog is overflowing with appealing albums by vocalists, some of them masterpieces of jazz singing, most of them pleasantly entertaining. Dinah Washington certainly had her share of hits, but was often criticized for pandering to a more pop oriented audience. However, she did have a couple of good jazz albums in her, and After Hours With Miss D is one of them, a loose, swinging record that embodies the hour of the day given in the title.

The real surprise may be how much improvisation is found here (“Blue Skies” clocks in at over seven minutes, and that’s the edited take), especially from a singer who usually avoided such a format. Wisely the band is stocked with a couple ringers in Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, Clark Terry, and Paul Quinichette, and a few obscure players who manage to find the right notes. There’s a couple of novel choices in instrumentation (piano and organ at the same time) but for the most part the group seems content to flip through a catalog of basic riffs on well-known tunes, delivering the sort of album geared toward people who don’t want to be distracted by anything too eccentric.

Washington delivers these songs with poise and potency, not a good interpreter of tunes perhaps, but certainly a confident singer, working through a selection of songs that suit her abilities. Every track is the sort of pleasantly hip swing that one hears in Pottery Barn, but a handful of tunes manage to reach the heights of great craftsmanship. “A Foggy Day” features a strong Latin backbeat and peppy riffs anchored by strong soloing and an organ-fuelled “Pennies From Heaven” is sheer toe-tapping delight. The real classic, however, is “Am I Blue?”, which recalls the great Holiday-Young recordings due to the subtle soloing of Quinichette.

Fans of Ella and Sara will no doubt find Washington’s album a poor match for the artistry of those two singers, but there’s no question that After Hours is a pleasant slice of jazz from a singer who rarely dabbled in the medium.

Count Basie at Newport
Tracks: 1. Introduction by John Hammond 2. Swingin’ at Newport 3. Polka Dots and Moonbeams 4. Lester Leaps In 5. Sent For You Yesterday 6. Boogie Woogie (I May Be Wrong) 7. Evenin’ 8. Blee Blop Blues 9. All Right, Okay, You Win 10. The Comeback 11. Roll ‘Em Pete 12. Smack Dab In the Middle 13. One O’Clock Jump.
Personnel: Count Basie and his Orchestra: Wendell Culley, Roy Eldridge, Renauld Jones, Thad Jones, Joe Newman-trumpets; Henry Coker, Bill Hughes, Benny Powell-trombone; Bill Grham-alto saxophone; Marshal Royal-alto saxophone, clarinet; Frank Foster, Illinois Jacquet, Lester Young-tenor saxophone; Frank Wess-tenor saxophone, flute; Charlie Fowlkes-baritone saxophone; Count Basie-piano; Freddie Green-guitar; Eddie Jones-bass; Jo Jones, Sonny Payne-drums; Jimmy Rushing, Joe Williams-vocals.

Dinah Washington-After Hours with Miss “D”
Tracks: 1. Blue Skies 2. Bye Bye Blues 3. Am I Blue? 4. Our Love Is Here to Stay 5. A Foggy Day 6. I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart 7. Pennies From Heaven 8. Love For Sale 9. Blue Skies (unedited version).
Personnel: Dinah Washington-vocal; Clark Terry-trumpet; Gus Chappell-trombone; Rick Henderson-alto saxophone; Eddie Chamblee, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Paul Quinichette-tenor saxophone; Clarence “Sleepy” Anderson, Junior Mance-piano; Jackie Davis-organ; Keter Betts-bass; Ed Thigpen-drums; Candido Camero-congas.


Verve on the web: http://www.vervemusicgroup.com


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