Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for 1,000 backers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!

496

The Real Swing: Count Basie Orchestra

R.J. DeLuke By

Sign in to view read count
ount Basie Orchestra
Fonda-Fultonville H.S.
Fonda, NY

Swing music experienced a bit of a renaissance over the last couple years, a craze that spawned a group of new young sings groups — energetic and somewhat fun, but marginally talented and extremely unauthentic. But the real thing came to Fonda-Fultonville High School in Fonda, NY, on March 15 night in the form of the Count Basie Orchestra. They played a benefit there to help send the school’s band to a jazz festival competition in Toronto.
“I can’t stand no 20-year-old telling me what swing is,” the group’s director Grover Mitchell told the audience. Mitchell was a member of Basie’s band, as well as Duke Ellington’s, during his career. He knows what he’s talking about. “There can never be any ‘new’ swing. It either swings or it doesn’t.”
And swing they did, for nearly two hours, playing arrangements with precision and punch, fast and slow, roaring and shifting.
This is no nostalgia band, playing boring stock arrangements of “hits.” It is still considered by critics as among the greatest in the world.

Some of today’s other great big bands experiment with form, investigate fusion with other types of music and explore more, and well they should. Not the Basie group. The music is based on two things: swing and the blues. They hit the ground running and swing you to death, in various speeds and volumes. They don’t pretend to do anything else.

They don’t have to.

The musicians are outstanding, varying in age. But they run through arrangements beautifully, executing so as to make it look easy. The songs came from great arrangers, as was always the case with Basie. Arrangements by Ernie Wilkins, Neil Hefti, Sam Netisco and Frank Foster were all featured prominently. They played well-known material from the band’s history, but newer things, some penned by a younger member of the trumpet section, Bob Ojeda.

They even featured some Ellington material, with “In a Mellow Tone,” penned by the Duke, and “Blood Count,” written by Ellington’s right hand man, Billy Strayhorn. The latter song was perhaps the only number that didn’t swing. Instead, Strays sophisticated ballad was played nicely by baritone saxophonist John Williams. Hefti’s “Fan Tail” swung like mad, featuring outstanding sax work by John Kelson, who played with a distinct Johnny Hodges flair, not with the more furious, be-bop oriented fashion to which most players subscribe. Scotty Barnhart’s trumpet was bold and brash. “Right On, Right On” was a swinger that ended with the entire brass and sax section standing and playing a line, boldly in unison, coming to an exciting climax that showed the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. All the solists are good, but the one who stood out most was trumpeter Barnhart. He worked with powerful plunger solos at times, making the horn screech, growl and howl. Other times his open horn was strong and clean, his technique fluid and his phasing confident. Longtime band member Kenny Hing was also a strong soloist on tenor sax, and the work of Brad Leali on alto and Clarence Banks on trombone also stood out. The band also has a weapon that helps push it to the top of the ranks – drummer Butch Miles. Miles, to these ears, is the best drummer Basie ever had after his original, the legendary Jo Jones. He performed with Basie from 1975-80. Drumming for a big band jazz is not the same as smaller groups. The drummer is the bus driver, pushing the unit, and as he goes the band goes. And Miles has always been among the best big band drummers in the world. He returned in 1997 and they should hope he stays. Miles is also a showman. He plays, like Gene Krupa always stressed, like he is enjoying himself and wants the fans to know it. He smiles, mugs, laughs through the concert, and has several slick moves with sticks and brushes that are visually entertaining. But all the while he is the pulse and the motor of the propulsive swing, whether it’s thunderous or soft. His solo on “The Drum Thing” brought the house down, but his work behind the band is what counts. The orchestra also brought a singer, baritone Jamie Davis.

Davis’ strong voice was fine on “Autumn Leaves” and “You Are Too Beautiful,” his inflection sounding more like Lou Rawls’ soul than Joe Williams’ blues. Other songs didn’t fare so well. “Come Fly With Me” would not scare Sinatra, and “World On String”and “My One and Only Love” were inconsistent.


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Ostrava Days 2017 Live Reviews Ostrava Days 2017
by Martin Longley
Published: November 23, 2017
Read Diane Schuur at Birdland Live Reviews Diane Schuur at Birdland
by Tyran Grillo
Published: November 20, 2017
Read Pat Metheny at Belfast Waterfront Live Reviews Pat Metheny at Belfast Waterfront
by Ian Patterson
Published: November 19, 2017
Read Crosscurrents at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor Live Reviews Crosscurrents at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: November 15, 2017
Read "Pat Martino at Dazzle" Live Reviews Pat Martino at Dazzle
by Douglas Groothuis
Published: September 2, 2017
Read "Steve Reich @ 80: Music for 18 Musicians" Live Reviews Steve Reich @ 80: Music for 18 Musicians
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: March 29, 2017
Read "Big Ears Festival 2017" Live Reviews Big Ears Festival 2017
by Mark Sullivan
Published: April 5, 2017
Read "Soule Indomitable at Nectar's" Live Reviews Soule Indomitable at Nectar's
by Doug Collette
Published: April 2, 2017
Read "Thundercat at the Bluebird Theater" Live Reviews Thundercat at the Bluebird Theater
by Geoff Anderson
Published: March 3, 2017

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Please support out sponsor