For our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, Mary and I went to the Park West in Chicago, to see the Count Basie Orchestra with Sarah Vaughan. At the time, there were some private tables, but most of the seating was at long tables that you shared with whoever was seated near you. We got there early enough that we were seated at the table right in front of the stage. Right in front of the horn section. I thought the seats were great, as did Mary, after she got used to the volume.
Most of the musicians were onstage before showtime. Precisely on time, the Count walked onto the stage with his long-time guitar player, Freddie Green. They both sat down, and when the applause died down, the two of them looked at each other, and seemingly without a signal from either of them, started playing together. I was immediately blown away.
William James “Count” Basie was from Red Bank, New Jersey, and learned to play from his mother. He played in a local movie theater before moving on to Harlem in 1924. In 1929, he joined Bennie Moten’s band in Kansas City. After Moten’s death in 1935, Basie formed his own orchestra, and for almost fifty years played behind some of the greatest singers, including Billy Eckstine, Big Joe Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Sarah Vaughan.
Our first selection is “April in Paris,” one of their theme songs, the other being “One O’Clock Jump.” If you remember the movie Blazing Saddles, this was the tune the band was playing when Bart rode up on his way to Rock Ridge. For some reason, the person who put this on YouTube has a picture of Miles Davis to go along with the music; I haven’t found any evidence that Davis played with the orchestra.
Our second selection is “Air Mail Special,” where you get a sense of what they were like in concert.
Count Basie, your Two for Tuesday, December 31, 2013. Happy New Year!