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Good Morning Blues

Richard J Salvucci By

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Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography of Count Basie as told to Albert Murray
William James Basie
399 Pages
ISBN: 978-1-5179-0143-1
University of Minnesota Press
2016 (1985)

In May 1959 Count Basie and his Orchestra played a "Breakfast Dance and Barbecue," like back in Kansas City, hosted by Roulette Records, for whom Basie had recently started to record. Lord, what a band: Thad Jones, Joe Newman,, Snooky Young and Wendell Culley on trumpet; Henry Coker, Al Grey and Benny Powell, trombone; Marshal Royal, Frank Wess, Frank Foster, Billy Mitchell and Charlie Fowlkes on saxophones; Freddie Green (who else?) on guitar; Eddie Jones on double bass; and the irrepressible Sonny Payne on drums." "I have never bragged on anything, but [that] band was one I could have bragged on....Hell, I'd find myself just sitting back listening....Frankly, I felt pretty lucky to be along in that band, because I just as soon and listen because everything was cracking so evenly." (322, 328) The band even did a version of Neal Hefti's "Cute" whose chanted 32 bar introduction ("What'd you say last night about Freddie Green...Freddie Green...Freddie Green...") sounded for all the world like Sun Ra playing "You Got to Face the Music." Imagine, the Count Basie Arkestra. Don't believe me? Listen for yourself.

Basie, who was nothing if not modest, rarely said his bands could cut the competition. Particularly in the late 1930s, when Basie ended up reorganizing Bennie Moten's band after Moten unexpectedly died from a botched tonsillectomy. After leaving home in Red Bank, NJ for stints in Harlem and Oklahoma, he made his way to Kansas City , where a lot of on the job training took place. Basie's big break came after he had gently schemed his way into Moten's band as a kind of relief pianist. As Basie added Joe Jones, Lester Young and Buck Clayton, there really wasn't much question about whose band this had become. Basie may have deferred pretty consistently to Duke Ellington, and as a pianist, he wasn't about to fool with any of the heavy hitters:"there were too many sharps in there" he said of a part someone put in front of him. Basie liked an occasional drink: a "taste" was both a chorus or an adult beverage. He liked women, but there was no doubt that Katy, nee Catharine Morgan, was the love of his life. About race and Jim Crow, which defined the lives of so many Black American musicians, Basie had little to say. That's certainly not because he lived any sort of charmed life: he didn't and the few incidents he mentions have a discouragingly familiar ring about them. But this isn't that sort of autobiography, or biography, or whatever: no kiss and tell, no larceny a la Art Pepper, nor even much in the way of sustained reflection on the music. That wasn't what Basie wanted. When this was first published 30 years ago after his death, Basie got what he wanted, a kind of annotated chronology, to be very blunt. Which, at first blush, makes you wonder about the usual gushing blurbs and superlatives: "One of the all time great memoirs in jazz." Really?

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