During a career that spanned more than sixty years, Frank Sinatra performed many times at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. When Ol’ Blue Eyes appeared there in February–March 1966, the occasion was especially memorable, as his “warm–up act” (and accompanist) was no less than the celebrated Count Basie Orchestra, a pairing that led to two marvelous albums, “Sinatra Live at the Sands,” and this one, which features the Basie ensemble onstage “before Frank,” playing the music that coaxed Sinatra’s audience into the proper frame of mind and held it there until he appeared. A rather easy assignment for the Count’s enterprising forces, who simply couldn’t help swinging, even on slower numbers such as Ellington’s “Satin Doll,” the standard “Makin’ Whoopee” (a showcase for Al Grey’s muted trombone) or Eric Dixon’s “Blues for Ilene.” The orchestra also brings out the best on Don Gibson’s schmaltzy “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and Steve Allen’s “This Could Be the Start of Something.” The other numbers, most taken from the “Count Basie Songbook,” include luminous charts by Neal Hefti (“Splanky,” “Foo Birds,” “Whirly Bird”), Quincy Jones (“I Needs to be Bee’d With”), Freddie Green (“Corner Pocket”), Andrew York (“Jumpin’ at the Woodside”) and the Count himself (“One O’Clock Jump”). The band is shepherded smartly along by its high–powered drummer, Sonny Payne, and flaming lead trumpeter, Al Aarons, while the roster of impressive soloists includes Grey, Dixon, Sonny Cohn, Grover Mitchell (the orchestra’s present leader) and Lockjaw Davis. Sound quality, while hardly as immaculate and well–balanced as proclaimed in the sleevenotes, is more than adequate, perhaps even exceptional for its time. This was by any measure one of Basie’s most formidable ensembles. If you plan to spend almost an hour with a big band, you could choose a lot worse than this one.
Track listing: Introduction; Splanky; I Can’t Stop Loving You; I Needs to be Bee’d With; Flight of the Foo Birds; Satin Doll; Makin’ Whoopee!; Corner Pocket; One O’Clock Jump; Hello Little Girl; Whirly Bird; Blues for Ilene; This Could Be the Start of Something Big; Jumpin’ at the Woodside (52:53).
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