WRTI's Essential Jazz Artist No. 9: Count Basie

Jan 31, 2017

If it’s refined and sophisticated, but it’s jumping and swinging and striding all at the same time, you’re talking Count Basie, and you voted William James Basie the No. 9 Most Essential Jazz Artist.

You can’t hear “April in Paris” without hearing the luscious Count Basie Orchestra sound. That and his “One O’Clock Jump” lay down the intricate but hot but laid-back Kansas City Big-Band style.

  • In Basie’s band, tenor saxophonist Lester Young didn’t like the vibrato of fellow tenor Herschel Evans. So Basie put them on either side of the altos and made them duel. The “split-tenor” arrangement was quickly adopted by other bands.
  • Basie himself said that the name “Count” came from his former bandleader Bennie Moten, who, when Basie slipped out while they were writing arrangements, would say, “Where’s that no ‘count rascal?”
  • Associated with Kansas City, Basie is actually from Red Bank, N.J., where you can find the Count Basie Theatre. And if that wasn’t a tip-off, one of his tunes is called “The Kid from Red Bank.”
  • Between wholly improvised jazz and the fully written-out orchestrations of Ellington, Basie’s music incorporated memorized “riffs” by entire sections behind a soloist.

Bob Perkins recommends one of the great albums, Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings.

And here, Meridee Duddleston asks if the cabaret tax killed the Big Bands.