Monday, April 9, 2012

JAZZ Appreciation Month: Count Basie

I don't remember when I first heard of Count Basie. It was probably from my sister, who was in the Jazz Band in high school, so I would have been about twelve or so. I only remember that he was the first major jazz musician I knew by name. I remember thinking that he was a realy "Count" like Dracula or Chocula, and how neat that was!

Count Basie was born on August 21, 1904 in New Jersey, but he became famous as part of the Kansas City Jazz movement in the 1930s. Because I grew up in St. Louis, maybe that mid-western connection was one of the reasons he was well known in my town. I had always heard of Scott Joplin, but he was historical; Count Basie, when I was growing up, was still alive. He died on April 26, 1984.

I didn't appreciate just how good Count Basie and his orchestra was until years later. I knew his classic One O'Clock Jump and April in Paris. I loved his team-ups with Tony Bennett (I mentioned my favorite last week.) But then flash forward to a few years ago when I was on a business trip to Japan. I walked into a Starbucks Coffee at Utsunomiya Station and heard what I immediately recognized as Ray Charles' voice, but with a more jazzy, big band sound rocking it behind him. I picked up the "featured CD" and found  RAY SINGS BASIE SWINGS. As I ordered my coffee I looked at the CD and listened and very much liked what I was hearing. I lingered longer than I would otherwise, and then finally decided to purchase it. I don't know about you, but whenever I buy a CD that isn't a "greatest hits" collection I inevitably end up loving one or two songs, liking a few others, and not liking the rest. Well let me tell you, for this CD I love nearly all of it! Of twelve songs, I don't care for two of them. That's a pretty great ratio! In fact, it is one of two I can think of off the top of my head where I was not sorry I had made that impulse buy. 

It turns out that this CD is a digital reproduction of a meeting that never actually happened! Similar to Nat "King" Cole dueting with his daughter Natalie, Ray Charles' vocals come from a concert in Germany in the mid-Seventies. Gregg Field produced the mixing of the Count Basie Orchestra (directed by Bill Hughes) with these original vocals. If you didn't know they were not together, however, you never would guess. It's that good.

In fact, I am so sure you would like this CD that I am willing to make a Money Back Guarantee on it! If you like Ray Charles or big band music, you will like this CD. Buy it, and if you actually don't like it send it to me and I will write you a check for the price. I know plenty of people I can give it to. But you aren't going to not like it!

I leave you with the man himself doing a version of one of my all-time favorite songs....Ladies and Gentlemen, Count Basie and his Orchestra with "ALL OF ME."

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