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“Simplicity and Celebration: An Appreciation of Count Basie” by Albert Murray
A Tale of Three Cities: Red Bank, Kansas City, New York
First Testament Band Roars Out of Kansas City
1938 Famous Door Photo Essay, Frank Driggs Collection
Basie in the 40's: Time of Transition
1944 Columbia Records Photo Essay, Frank Driggs Collection
Basie in the 50's: Sixteen Men Swinging-Again
Milt Hinton Photo Essay, Sound of Jazz, CBS Television, December 8,1957
Chuck Stewart Photo Essay: The Basie Band and Joe Williams, Roulette recording sessions, 1957
Chance meeting: The Count and Coltrane
Tad Hershorn Photo Essay: Ella Fitzgerald and Basie in San Antonio, 1979
Count Basie Virtual Jukebox
They Speak of Basie: Joe Williams, Freddie Green, Jay McShann, Oscar Peterson, Albert Murray, Helen Humes, Louie Bellson . . .
Suggested Recordings and Readings
Finale: Video of Count Basie at Montreux, 1977


The reconstituted Count Basie big band was born in 1952 with the encouragement of singer-bandleader Billy Eckstine, who needed a big band for a tour and wanted Basie at the helm. Eckstine, whose pioneering bebop band had folded in 1947, provided Basie with music stands and other equipment left over from his three years as a bandleader. Other key ingredients of the Basie revival included his signing with Norman Granz and his Clef label in 1952 when long playing albums were catching on; the electrifying arrival two years later of singer Joe Williams; appearances at Birdland in New York and Basie’s friendships with record producer Teddy Reig and Morris Levy leading to his recordings for Roulette Records between 1957 and 1962. It was only in the 1950s that Basie became an enduring jazz institution, according to critic Whitney Balliett, who wrote in 1956 that the band was in the remaining tall hedges populated only by the bands of Ellington, Kenton and Herman. More importantly, Balliett claimed that jazz audiences were only then becoming fully aware of what Basie had stood for musically since 1936.


The New Testament Band was not the abrupt stylistic change some believed. The band’s new approach had evolved throughout the 1940s as its exemplary soloists peeled away and Basie compensated for this by choosing arrangers to maintain the band’s identity. These included musicians from within the band, such as saxophonists Ernie Wilkins, Frank Foster and Frank Wess and trumpeter Thad Jones, but not Neal Hefti, who arranged for Basie between 1950 and 1962, and wrote “Little Pony,” “Cute,” “Li'l Darling” and “Whirlybird.” Even though the role of soloists had been a bit diminished, many important musicians schooled in the intricacies of modern jazz emerged from the band, including Thad Jones, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Al Grey, Joe Newman, Frank Wess, Jimmy Forrest and Joe Williams. (Only rhythm guitarist Freddie Green remained from the original Basie ranks of the early days.)

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© Copyright 2004, Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University Libraries

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Count Basie, in this color photograph from around 1950, looks as healthy as his prospects. At the encouragement of singer/bandleader Billy Eckstine, Basie abandoned his brief hiatus as a small group leader to reform his big band. Photograph by George Rosenthal.
 
Count Basie led a small group after disbanding from 1950 until 1952 featuring, l-r, Jimmy Lewis, bass; Buddy DeFranco, clarinet; Gus Johnson, drums; Wardell Gray, tenor saxophone; Freddie Green, guitar; and Clark Terry, trumpet. The group is seen here at the Brass Rail in Chicago in 1951. Frank Driggs Collection.
 
Count Basie is seen here playing a date in the early 1950s at Atlantic City, New Jersey. The photographs leaves little to the imagination in depicting as it does Basie’s spare approach to the keyboard. Frank Driggs Collection.
 
The Basie band’s popular held up well during a time when jazz was in transition as can be seen in this handbill from Birdland from the late 1950s, when it also presented such modernists as Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderley, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Dizzy Gillespie and the John Coltrane Quintet.
 
Handbill from Birdland, one of the Basie band’s most important engagements throughout the 1950s.
 
Voice of America jazz broadcaster Willis Conover prepares to do a program with Count Basie in the 1950s. Conover was not a well-known figure in the United States due to the prohibition against domestic broadcasting VOA programs, but he was a seminal link in spreading jazz across Europe and the Soviet Union.
Count Basie looks up during his first recording for Norman Granz’s Clef label in 1952. He stayed with Granz until 1957 when he signed with Roulette Records.
Count Basie greets his father, Harvey Lee Basie, sometime in the 1950s.
 

Thirty of the greatest fingers in jazz piano of the 1950s—Art Tatum, Erroll Garner and Count Basie—meet in an informal summit. Though Basie was modest about his playing (even fearful where Tatum was concerned), it was the rock on which his band played and derivative of a style dating back to such stride piano giants of the 1920s and 1930s as James P. Johnson and Fats Waller.

 

 

Count Basie with Billy Eckstine, Billie Holiday and her Chihuahua “Peppy” sometime in the 1950s. Frank Driggs Collection.

 
Basie and trumpeter Buck Clayton share a relaxed moment. Clayton parlayed his early experiences with Basie to develop his skills as a writer and arranger for such bandleaders as Basie, Benny Goodman and Harry James and to produce a series of well-known jam session records in the 1950s.
Count and Catherine Basie lead the way to the next leg of the band’s European tour in March 1954. Members of the band included, l-r, Gus Johnson, drums; Reunald Jones, trumpet; Eddie Jones, bass; Bixie Crawford, vocalist; Marshall Royal, first alto saxophone; Ernie Wilkins, alto saxophone; Bill Hughes, trombone; Benny Powell, trombone; Freddie Green, guitar; Count and Catherine Basie; Joe Wilder, trumpet; Joe Newman, trumpet; Frank Wess, tenor saxophone and flute; Henry Coker, trombone; and Charlie Fowkles, baritone saxophone. Frank Driggs Collection.
This January 14, 1956 cover of Saturday Review featuring Count Basie and Joe Williams is emblematic of the resurgence in the band’s popularity by the mid 1950s.