‘This album represents the Basie band at a peak’

SteepleChase SCCD 36508

Falkoner Centret Copenhagen Denmark

 Al Aarons, Sonny Cohn, Thad Jones and Snooky Young (tp); Henry Coker, Quentin Jackson and Benny Powell (tb); Marshal Royal (cl,as); Frank Wess (fl,as,ts); Eric Dixon (fl,ts); Frank Foster (ts); Charlie Fowlkes (bar); Count Basie (p); Freddie Green (g); Eddie Jones (b); Sonny Payne (d); Irene Reid and O.C. Smith (v)

Recorded 28th April 1962

In some ways the 1962 album is a culmination.  Twenty years earlier Basie reformed the band after suffering a decline.  The band sometimes called ‘The New Testament band’ in contrast to the band of the thirties, eventually brought out an album of Neal Hefti pieces with a cover picture of an atomic explosion: ‘The Atomic Mr Basie’. The band also had some success with the Wild Bill Davis’ arrangement of ‘April in Paris’. Around half of the musicians featured on the present album had been with Basie since early fifties.  The music of Hefti was important in the band’s library with also contributions from musician such as Thad Jones, Frank Foster and Frank Wess.  From the fifties, European tours were frequent.  In 1962, the date of this concert, the band actually toured on two occasions.  Although slicker than the band that made Basie famous in the thirties, nevertheless, this present version retained a vital jazz spirit as can be heard from the way that Basie featured his soloists, practically every musician has a moment in the sun.

This album is special, recorded in Copenhagen, it has not been issued before.  This is a good opportunity to hear the band at its best. The band was still playing many of the pieces from the Neil Hefti book. There are four here.  This album represents the Basie band at a peak before, in the next few years, the band would enter a period when it churned out: ‘Basie’s Beatle Bag’, ‘Basie On The Beatles’,’ The Happiest Millionaire’, ‘Basie Meets Bond’, ‘Basie Picks The Winners’, ‘Basie’s In The Bag’, ‘Half a Sixpence’.

Many of the pieces open with Basie setting the tempo. Al Aarons on trumpet and Frank Wess on flute play after Basie’s intro on ‘Why Not’, a good brisk piece to open the concert.  ‘April In Paris’ originally recorded in 1955 with the repeated ending is one of those pieces that Basie was condemned to play nightly because of its popularity.

Unusually, bassist Eddie Jones opens ‘Easy Money’ from Benny Carter. Carter contributed many pieces to Basie including a couple of years earlier the ‘Kansas City Suite’. The writing for the saxophone section shows the Marshal Royal section at its best.  The solos are from Snooky Young and Benny Powell.  There are good opportunities for Sonny Payne to contribute his fills as the volume rises.  Carter also, in his writing, enables the band to show their mastery of dynamics, moving slowly from soft to roaring.


The main highlight is ‘Segue in C’: a deceptively simple piece by Frank Wess, Basie opens accompanied by the rhythm section of Sonny Payne, Eddie Jones and Freddie Green on guitar. The quality of the recording allows the sound of Green’s guitar to be heard and felt. Green is as responsible for the Basie sound as anyone else. The rhythm guitar here is the foundation of the rhythmic pulse at the heart of the band. Eric Dixon on tenor plays a relaxed solo before the emergence of the theme on the trumpets.  Basie returns briefly before trombonist Quentin Jackson, a recent addition, solos.  He has a unique style with mutes following in the tradition of Ellington’s Tricky Sam Nanton.  This is jazz trombone playing with both guts and nuance.

Thankfully, throughout the album, there is plenty of Basie piano.  Basie’s style is beyond economical:  not a note too many but every note counting and all the notes essential. On ‘I Needs To Be Beed With’ Basie has a long solo before Quentin Jackson takes over to preach mightily with his eloquent, pungent, plunger muted trombone. Jackson is remarkable. His idiosyncratic playing can be plaintive, roaring, brassy and squarely in the tradition. ‘A Little Tempo Please’’ has an extended intro from Basie before the band roars away with a fast trombone solo from Henry Coker.

‘Li’l Darling’ is an example of the mastery of tempo. The ability to carry the melody and maintain the swing at such a slow pace is almost unique to Basie. ‘Easin’ It’ by Frank Foster is one of those tunes where most brass playing musicians are featured. After Basie’s solo we hear the trombones one by one, then the trumpets solo one by one.

Sonny Payne was an extrovert drummer.  His main feature is on Jerome Kern’s ‘Ol’ Man River’.  On a piece like this Payne liked to entertain the audience by juggling with his drumsticks without losing the beat.  Much of that is lost on an audio recording! He was also a more subtle drummer and his work on ‘Cute’ where his brushes power the band as the whole group enjoy the skipping melody.

O.C. Smith and Irene Reid had replaced Joe Williams.  Reid was more a shouter than a singer and she fills out ‘I Got Rhythm’, ‘Backwater Blues’ and Alexander’s Ragtime Band’.

The album is beautifully recorded in stereo, and it captures the taste and timing of this remarkable band, especially the powerful depth of Charlie Fowlkes baritone, complementing the rest of the saxophone section.