Count Basie: "One O'Clock Jump"
Part II in a series exploring the history of the Swing Era's greatest songs.
In the summer of 1937 Charlie Parker headed to the Ozark Mountains with a stack of Count Basie records and spent hours woodshedding, learning the solos of Lester Young note for note. Although Parker developed his own style out of this exercise, Young's playing had a profound influence on his initial approach. But Parker wasn't the only one; there were plenty of artists who devoted time to copying the floating, melodic style of the tenor player. Many of these artists learned to play like Young from the early Basie records, including "One O'Clock Jump".
The Rhythm Section
The Basie bandstand was littered with talented musicians besides Young. Herschel Evans was a star tenor player in the Texas style, and Buck Clayton and Harry "Sweets" Edison blew some hot trumpet. But Basie's music was always intended for dancing, and thus it made sense that he would have the best rhythm section around. Basie said, "I am sure that the rhythm section is right as it is. It's the one section that has given us no trouble at any time. And when I speak of the rhythm, I mean bass, drums and guitar. You can count me out." Jo Jones, Walter Page, and Freddie Green (known as "The All-American Rhythm Section") all but invented the notion of swing through their innovations. Jones moved the pulse from the base drum to the cymbals and perfected the use of the high hat, giving the rhythm a sizzling drive. Page was the first to popularize the four-to-the-bar method of playing bass that became the standard for all big bands. And Freddie Green was the world's best rhythm guitarist, often more felt than heard, never taking a solo yet always emphasizing the beat. Basie, for his part, soloed with a sparse piano style inspired by stride pianists like James P. Johnson, filled with long, rhythmic pauses that made every note count. Freddie Green said, "The Count don't do much, but he does it better than anyone else." The Basie sound was built from this foundation up.
Kansas City and Beyond
The Basie band had its roots in the Kansas City sound, a riff-heavy blending of blues with big band orchestration. In 1936 they broadcast regularly from the Reno Club there, where they caught the attention of John Hammond, who began writing about the Basie band in Downbeat. This led to a contract with Decca, where Basie recorded a series of popular big band records, such as "Swingin' the Blues", Jumpin' at the Woodside", and the song that would eventually become his theme, "One O'Clock Jump." The standard practice at the time was to offer a musician $750 for twenty-four sides over three years; thus Basie never saw any royalties from any of these recordings. The success of the Basie band led to gigs in Chicago, followed by several engagements in New York, including a fiery battle with Chick Webb's orchestra at the Savoy Ballroom. Basie beat the popular drummer at his own game, adding to his reputation.
"One O'Clock Jump" is a fairly simple tune, based on a 12-bar blues that builds in rhythmic intensity. It is constructed from a series of three riffs, carried first by the saxophones, then by the trumpets, then finally the trombones, followed by a series of solos. It was such a popular tune and so easy to adopt that several bandleaders, including Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington, quickly added it to their repertoire. By 1940 it had been recorded a dozen times. As was customary at the time, Basie was given credit for composing the tune, although several people had a hand in its creation. The famous riff which concludes the piece was nicked from a recording by Fats Waller entitled "Six or Seven Times", and arranger Eddie Durham certainly had a hand in the tight, swinging orchestration. "One O'Clock Jump" proved to be so popular that it became the last song of the night at the Reno Club before it was even recorded, and Basie used it as his closing song for over fifty years. Originally the tune was called "Blue Ball", but a nervous radio broadcaster felt that he couldn't say the title on the air. The tune was thus dubbed "One O'Clock Jump" after the late hour that it was traditionally played.
The Tenor Battles