Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Soaring with the Count Basie Orchestra Amongst The Foo Birds

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Due to the simple factor of chronology, my initial exposure to Count Basie’s band was during the late 1950's.

My first LP by the band was Basie Plays Hefti [Roulette 52011] which I wore out while trying to learn all of drummer Sonny Payne, licks, kicks and fills.

This period in the band’s history would come to be known as “The Atomic Basie” period.

The explanation for this categorization are explained in the following excerpts from Chris Sheridan’s insert notes to Mosaic Records, The Complete Roulette Studio Recordings of Count Basie and His Orchestra [MD10-149].

“1957 was a pivotal year for the Count Basie Orchestra. Five years earlier, the Count had said hello to [what would become known as] the New Testament Band, embracing arrangements by Neal Hefti and Ernie Wilkins alongside those by Buck Clayton, Buster Harding and Don Redman.

Then, in July, 1957, he finally said goodbye to the Old Testament Band when, at the Newport Jazz Festival, Lester Young sat in with the Basie band for the last time.

In the transitional period between these dates, the new band had developed, using charts predominantly by its own members, notably Ernie Wilkins and Frank Foster. As the "Dance Sessions" band succeeded and grew in strength, so its grip on the past eased and most of the older repertoire was phased out, war horses like One O’clock Jump and Jumpin' at the Woodside being notable exceptions.

The scene was set for something newer when the summer of 1957 also brought to an end Basie's long-term contract with Norman Granz, who was announcing one of his several retirements. His Clef recording company had given the Count Basie Orchestra a much-needed forum in 1952; now the band needed another.

It came in the shape of Morris Levy, who had just started Roulette Records. Basie and he were no strangers. Morris Levy owned Birdland, the club at 1678 Broadway, just north of Swing Street. Named for Charlie Parker, it had, somewhat like the Woodside Hotel in the 1930s, become the New York home of the Count Basie Orchestra of the 1950s. …

For many years, the association between Basie and Roulette was thought to have had a stuttering start, the first recording session producing just a single title that was passed over in favor of material cut a month later. Like the band's first Clef session, that was apparently all Neal Hefti scores, a blast into the future that named an era. With admirable controversy, Roulette used a cover photograph of an atomic explosion, the equation of atomic fission, e=mc2, which became known as the Atomic Mr. Basie [52003].

From now on, this would be Basie's "Atomic Period.” …

One of my favorite Neal Heft arrangements for Basie Band is Flight of the Foo Birds” which is based on the chords progressions the standard, Give Me The Simple Life.

Hefti’s Flight of the Foo Birds forms the audio track to the following tribute to the Basie Band.  The solos are by Frank Wess on alto saxophone, Thad Jones on trumpet and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis on tenor saxophone.

Was there ever a more explosive Basie band than this one [pun intended]?

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