That said, the book is a revelation, especially to someone not intimately familiar with the corpus of Basie's work, which effectively spanned more than half a century and produced some of the most varied, hard-swinging and killing tunes of the mid to late twentieth century. If you like, you could fixate just on the sidemen who played with Basie, and the profusion of brilliant solos and ensemble passages. If you're a fan of Snooky Young or of Harry "Sweets" Edison
, you find yourself repeatedly saying, "I never heard that before." Or how did I miss this? If you were brought up in a swing-oriented environment in which Benny Goodman
was The King of Swing, you sort of know. I'm certain my Dad must have had more Basie and Ellington in his much lamented collection of 78s than I ever knew (trashed in the 1950s when I little). So I discovered Basie via Frank Sinatra
and Reprise rather than by Verve and certainly not by Roulette. These were great recordings with Sinatra, but Basie had been at it on his own for nearly three decades. It's one thing to know Basie's cover of "I Can't Stop Loving You" note for note (I did), quite another "Topsy" let alone "Ain't It the Truth." Not exactly throw-aways, but Basie scarcely mentions "Topsy" (194) with Jack Washington
's astounding bari solo. Or yet again, play Prez's solo on "Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie" and then listen to Stan Getz
in the 1950s, particularly on "I Want to Be Happy" with Oscar Peterson
. Kind of stunning if you've never tried the exercise. You could go on about Basie's (and Ernie Wilkins
)immense influence on the big bands of Harry James
in the 1950s and 1960s , but really, what's the point. If you're dealing with a jazz-literate audience, you're preaching to the choir.
Essentially, this reissue of Basie's Autobiography by the University of Minnesota Press is an invaluable resource for a younger (or not so younger) listener whose life wasn't blessed enough to exactly coincide with Basie's lengthy career, or who missed the appearance of the original in 1985. These days, you have the internet, and it's astonishing how much of Basie's recorded output, both of the "Old" and "New" Testament bands, is there. You could probably spend a year with this volume and hardly scratch the surface of Basie's discography if you come with a willingness to learn and open ears. No, it doesn't give you the insights into Basie at any level that, say, Michael Zirpolo's biography of Bunny Berigan
does. But how much do I wish that Basie had written some of this in the 1960s and 1970s when I was drifting off to listen to bands that had been trendier or more athletic, but whose music really pales by comparison, something that time and a little perspective makes more evident now that the principals are all gone?
If you want to learn from a master, then your read Basie's Autobiography. It will be time well spent if you use it creatively rather than just read aimlessly or straight through at a shot.