The secret of Count Basie’s success here may not have been the heat coming from the band, however indispensable, but on the cool coming from the air-conditioning. So committed were Basie fans John Hammond and Willard Alexander, the latter just starting his career with Music Corporation of America, on getting the Basie band into the popular club at 66 West 52nd Street that they conspired to pay for air-conditioning in its cramped quarters, which had previously booked only small groups. Hammond and Alexander also persuaded CBS to broadcast live during the band’s first engagement from July to October 1938 when these photographs were made and again in the summer of 1939 . Such network broadcasts, also helped lift the Count Basie Orchestra into the upper echelons of big band jazz, alongside Ellington, Lunceford, Goodman, Shaw, the Dorseys and Cab Calloway.
“They swung harder and looser at the same time, than any of the Eastern bands, and had at least three superlative soloists in Lester Young, Buck Clayton and Herschel Evans,” wrote jazz historian Frank Driggs. “It was the first time in jazz that two outstanding tenor men were present and featured in one band.” The band had been infused with such important new talents as trombonists Dicky Wells and Benny Morton, trumpeter Harry Edison, lead alto saxophonist Earle Warren and rhythm guitarist Freddie Green.
As Driggs put it, “After that summer at the Famous Door, Basie never looked back.”