© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Given the month in the title of this piece, I suppose it might have been more suitable to bring up this posting in April rather than in January. But the Basie Band’s version of April in Paris has been playing in my mind recently as have images of the beautiful city of Paris, so I decided to put the two together in the video that you’ll find at the end of this piece.
As the story goes, one night in Birdland the Count Basie band was playing a new arrangement by William "Wild Bill" Davis of an old song by Vernon Duke — April In Paris.
It's a striking arrangement, this one, for a song that has been played and sung in any number of ways since E. Y. (Yip) Harburg fashioned words to Vernon Duke's melody, it becoming the most memorable feature of a 1932 Broadway show called "Walk A Little Faster.”
In Davis' arrangement there is one sequence which might well be an instrumental solo except that in Basie's hands the entire ensemble goes to work — the effect being, to say the least, highly unusual; hearing it for the first time one assumes that the band is playing an ad lib melody. Finally, there's the ending, which is a delightful fooler, as all jazz followers are aware by now.
Well on this night in Birdland it seemed natural for Basie to give his orders verbally. "One more time," he directed. Then: "One more —once ..."
The result? One of Basie's biggest hits and, now, one of the most frequently requested tunes wherever the Basie aggregation goes. It's typical Basie, of course — swinging, exciting, weightless with a sound that's immediately identifiable. The solos in April In Paris, incidentally, are by Thad Jones on trumpet and Benny Powell on trombone, and the piano, of course, belongs to William "Count" Basie.
In 1956, April in Paris also became the title of one of the Basie Band’s best-selling Verve LP’s [CD 825 575-2]
The various facets of the Basie band, by 1956, by this date, a three-time winner in Down Beat's annual Jazz Critics Poll, come to light with infectious vigor in the other selections in the album [Basie gave up his original big band in the late 1940’s and toured with a septet for a few years until he once again organized his big band around 1952.] Taking them in order, Corner Pocket is an Ernie Wilkins arrangement, with the trumpets of Thad Jones and Joe Newman coming in strong after a brisk little introductory figure by Basie's piano; Frank Wess tenor saxophone, also takes a solo. Frank Foster's Did'n You shows the reeds to good advantage and there's a very mellow trombone contributed by Henry Coker. Sweety Cakes, by Ernie Wilkins, is likewise in the mellow mood with almost gentle piano work by Basie. Magic is a tricky Frank Wess tune with Wess himself featured on the tenor saxophone. Frank Foster's Shiny Stockings reveals the Basie crew in a particularly hard-blowing Jazz mood while another Foster arrangement, this one of Duke Ellington's What Am I Here For, features Joe Newman's trumpet and Frank Wess on flute along with Basie’s piano. Midgets, by Joe Newman, will put you in mind precisely of little people at play [the title refers to Joe’s term of endearment for little children]—the muted trumpet is Newman's, too. For a change of pace, Mambo Innsends the Basie band into a Latin-American tempo and some blistering ensemble work. Joe Newman's trumpet and Frank Foster on tenor handle the solos in the jumping Dinner With Friends, a Neal Hefti arrangement.
The personnel on this classic album are: JOE NEWMAN, THAD JONES, WENDELL CULLY, REUNALD JONES, trumpets; HENRY COKER, BENNY POWELL, BILL HUGHES, trombones; MARSHALL ROYAL, BILLY GRAHAM, alto saxophones; FRANK FOSTER, FRANK WESS, tenor saxophones; CHARLIE FOWLKES, baritone saxophone; COUNT BASIE, piano; FREDDIE GREENE, guitar; ED JONES, bass; SONNY PAYNE, drums.