Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Count Basie Swingin' The Blues

Swingin the Blues 
Masters of American Music 

Among the recent reissues from the Masters of American Music video series is one Swingin’ the Blues, devoted to Count Basie, the great big band leader and pianist. Issued by EuroArts on the Lower 5th imprint, it presents the near hour appreciation of Count Basie with some choice video clips and interview recollections by Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison, Al Grey, Illinois Jacquet, Jay McShann, Buddy Tate, Earle Warren, Claude Williams, Joe Williams and Albert Murray (who co-authored Basie’s autobiography), along with a number of interview clips of the Count himself.

Additionally, there are a number of performance clips from Basie himself from several periods of his career which feature Joe Williams, Jimmy Rushing, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, and Lester Young. The sources range from the soundies (an amusing Rushing performance of Take Me Bake Baby, a film short (the clip of Young is from the classic film The Blues), and television (Basie with Judy Garland).

The mix of recollections and oral history with the clips helps us understand the development of the Basie sound as Basie remembers how he came to Kansas City and gradually put together his own band and Jay McShann remembers Basie and his band and the impact they had. Earle Warren, Edison, Williams and Tate recall there time with the band (Williams ironically recalling that John Hammond had him let go from Basie at a time when Claude was highly regarded as a guitarist) and the personalities including Lester Young, and Buck Clayton as well as how Basie could set the tenor of a number with just one note, the use of the two tenors, and the All American rhythm section. Murray adds his own perspective on Basie’s place in the music.

This documentary then traces how Basie had to disband the big band for a sextet before gradually bringing back the big band and the new personnel and sounds with arrange- ments from the likes of Neal Hefti, Frank Wess and Frank Foster and numerous new legendary soloists like Lockjaw Davis and Al Grey.

Joe Williams recalls how Basie asked him to join the band, which he agreed to so long as he did not to do any of Jimmy Rushing’s material. And he brought Basie an old Memphis Slim tune, Everyday I Have the Blues, that helped reignite Basie’s profile. And that led to more commercial successes as well as partnerships with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., and others.

Like others in the Masters of Modern American Music series, the program on Count Basie; Swingin’ the Blues, fleshes out a musical icon in a most entertaining and informative manner. 

This review originally appeared in the June 2010 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 326). I received my review copy from the publication.  Here is a classic video of Basie with Buck Clayton on trumpet.

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