Count Basie - piano; Billy Mitchell - tenor sax; Charlie Fowlkes - baritone sax; Marshall Royal - alto sax; Frank Wess - tenor sax; Frank Foster - tenor sax; Joe Newman - trumpet; Thad Jones - trumpet; Wendell Culley - trumpet; Snooky Young - trumpet; Al Grey - trombone; Benny Powell - trombone; Henry Coker - trombone; Freddie Green - guitar; Ed Jones - bass; Sonny Payne - drums; Joe Williams - vocals; Lambert, Hendricks & Ross - vocals
One of the most important figures to come out of the Swing Era, Count Basie presided with regal authority for 50 years over a dynamic big band that defined the art of group swing. Their appearance at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival, coming two years after an acclaimed live album (1957's Count Basie at Newport on Verve), was a typically swinging affair marked by a steamrolling momentum and highly polished execution by the brassy juggernaut. A string of potent solo voices in saxophonists Frank Wess, Frank Foster and Marshall Royal, trumpeters Joe Newman, Snooky Young and Thad Jones, trombonists Al Grey and Benny Powell added improvisational punch to the proceedings while longstanding Basie drummer Sonny Payne fueled the well-oiled aggregation with his inimitable flash and swing factor alongside bassist Eddie Jones and reliable rhythm guitarist Freddie Green, a fixture in the Basie organization from its inception in 1937 to the bandleader's death in 1984. Their exhilarating set on July 2nd at Newport was enhanced by the bluesy vocals of Joe Williams, a Basie regular from 1954-1961, and special guests Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, whose ground-breaking vocalese approach on familiar Basie fare elevated the energy level a notch or two .
This 1950s edition of the Count Basie Orchestra, featuring fresh arrangements by Neal Hefti, Frank Foster, Thad Jones and Frank Wess, is sometimes known as the "new testament" band to distinguish this more modern, streamlined version of the Basie band from its "old testament" predecessors from the '30s and '40s. This newer aggregation came into its own with the release of 1957's Atomic Basie (on Morris Levy's Roulette Records label), marking a new phase in Basie's career. And by 1959, the group was running smoothly on all cylinders. They kick things off at the July 2nd concert with "Back to the Apple," a new Basie composition at the time which swings aggressively while showcasing the full dynamic range, from a whisper to a shout, in the course of this swaggering opener. The pristine quality of the recording allows for crystal clear separation of all the instruments in the band while the uncanny tightness in the horn section provides maximum punch on all the section hits. Shifting gears, they next take on Thad Jones's easy swinging "The Deacon," a soulful number which begins with a relaxed quartet feel from Basie's minimalist piano tinkling, accompanied only by Green's steady comping on guitar, Jones' insistent quarter note pulse on bass and Payne's subtle yet insistent time feel. The full band enters on Jones' buoyant theme and as the piece settles into a groove you can begin to hear the casual bantering on the bandstand among the musicians, particularly during Thad Jones' stirring trumpet solo and throughout the conversational exchanges between trombonists Benny Powell and Al Grey. Again, the superb recording quality lets you hear every nuance of Payne's drumming, and the sheer punch of the horns on those Basie-esque hits will knock you off your seat.
They fly through Neal Hefti's "Whirlybird," a romping big band vehicle that was aptly titled "Roller Coaster" in a previous incarnation, before Basie summons to the stage "the guy that sings the blues." Joe Williams is in particularly fine voice here as he delivers, in his deep-toned baritone voice, profoundly soulful renditions of "Five O'Clock in the Morning Blues," "Baby Won't You Please Come Home" and "Gee Baby Ain't I Good To You." Williams rocks the Newport crowd with exhilarating versions of two Big Joe Turner staples, "Shake Rattle and Roll" and the infectious shuffle "I've Got a Girl" (a variation on Turner's pioneering hit from 1938, "Roll 'Em Pete," which the Kansas City blues shouter performed with this boogie-woogie piano playing partner, Pete Johnson). He turns in an exhilarating rendition of his signature tune "Well Alright, OK, You Win" (which he premiered on 1955's Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings) and delivers a soulful take on Ray Charles' "Hallelujah I Love Her So" (a gospel-tinged single introduced by Atlantic Records in 1956).
Just as the Basie set had built to an ecstatic peak, Williams introduces special guests Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, who leapt into the limelight just the previous year with their astonishing debut, Sing a Song of Basie on ABC-Paramount (later reissued on Impulse). Comprised of vocalese pioneers Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks and Annie Ross, this invigorating trio specialized in setting lyrics (primarily penned by Hendricks) to existing and particularly memorable instrumental jazz solos. Ross was actually one of the first to successfully venture into vocalese with her 1952 hit "Twisted" (based on a famous Wardell Gray tenor sax solo). Her early experiments, along with those of fellow vocalese pioneers King Pleasure and Eddie Jefferson, marked her as a true innovator in vocal jazz. And when Ross joined forces in 1957 with Lambert and Hendricks - each of whom had been making notable strides on their own in the same vocalese direction - a powerhouse act was born.
Their appearance at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival came hot on the heels of their second triumphant release, The Swingers on the Pacific Jazz label (later reissued on EMI/Manhattan).
They enter with the jivey "It's Sand, Man" before tackling Basie's "Let Me See," Horace Silver's "Doodlin'" and the invigorating "Taps Miller." Williams joins them for a rousing rendition of Louis Jordan's "Rusty Dusty Blues," with Lambert, Hendricks and Ross providing backing vocal harmony and simulated horn pads. They deliver a soulful reading of Milt Jackson's "The Spirit-Feel," a tune that was also covered by Ray Charles the previous year at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. And they wrap it up with a swinging "Avenue C," a Basie staple chockfull of clever Hendricks lyrics, before segueing to Basie's closing theme, "One O'Clock Jump," putting the capper on what was easily one of the most invigorating and memorable sets of the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival.
Basie would return to Newport several times over the next 20 years, but this night ranks as one of Basie's peak performances at George Wein's annual clambake. A native of Red Bank, New Jersey, William "Count" Basie was born on August 21, 1904. His first piano teacher was his mother Lillian Basie. As a teenager, Basie played piano for silent films shown at the local Red Bank cinema. By 1924, he was hanging out in Harlem, where he met and befriended Harlem stride piano masters like Fats Waller, Willie "The Lion" Smith and James P. Johnson, all of whom introduced Basie to other top musicians while sharing piano tips with the young player. He later got his first road experience accompanying performers on the vaudeville circuit and in 1927 found himself stuck in Kansas City when the troupe he was traveling with disbanded. The 23-year-old pianist remained in that Midwestern town, picking up some freelance work before eventually hooking up in 1928 with Walter Page's Blue Devils. Bassist Page would later become part of Basie's All-American rhythm section (alongside drummer Jo Jones and guitarist Freddie Green). The singer in Page's Blue Devils band, Jimmy Rushing, would later become a star with the '30s edition of the Count Basie Orchestra. In 1935, after a stint in Bennie Moten's territory band, Basie formed his own nine-piece band (originally called the Barons of Rhythm) with former Moten bandmates Page on bass, Green on guitar, Jones on drums, Lester Young on tenor sax and Rushing on vocals. They were discovered by talent scout and record producer John Hammond, who was able to secure high-profile gigs for the band at the Grand Terrace in Chicago and the Roseland Ballroom in New York. This led to a recording contract with Decca Records in 1937. Their recording of "One O'Clock Jump" later that year was the band's first chart-topper and ultimately became the Count Basie Orchestra theme song for the next half century.
Basie spent the early '40s touring extensively with his orchestra. During the World War II years, they appeared in five films, including Reveille with Beverly, Stage Door Canteen, and Crazy House while also scoring hits with "I Didn't Know About You," "Red Bank Blues," "Rusty Dusty Blues" and "Blue Skies." In 1954, Basie went overseas for the first time to play in Scandinavia. Another Basie band staple, "April in Paris," was released the following year on an album of the same title for the Verve label. Vocalist Joe Williams was introduced to Basie fans on 1955's Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings, which included the hit single, "Every Day (I Have the Blues)." Williams remained a key component of the Count Basie Orchestra until 1960. In January 1960, the Basie band performed at one of the five John F. Kennedy Inaugural Balls. That summer, Basie and Duke Ellington combined forces for the recording First Time! The Count Meets the Duke, each jazz icon providing four numbers from his play book.
In 1962, Basie scored a big commercial success with Sinatra-Basie on Frank Sinatra's Reprise label and they repeated that formula on 1964's It Might As Well Be Spring. Through the '60s, Basie teamed with other vocalists in a series of successful recordings, including Ella Fitzgerald (1963's Ella and Basie!), Sammy Davis, Jr. (1965's Our Shining Hour) and Jackie Wilson (1968's Manufacturers of Soul). He returned to a purely instrumental straight ahead jazz format with 1969's Grammy nominated Standing Ovation and in 1970 recorded Afrique with arranger/conductor Oliver Nelson. Basie recorded through the '70s in a variety of small group settings for Norman Granz's Pablo Records, including 1972's Loose Walk (with Roy Eldridge), 1974's The Bosses (with Big Joe Turner), 1975's Basie Jam (with Harry "Sweets" Edison, J.J. Johnson, Zoot Sims, Ray Brown and Louie Bellson), 1976's Basie and Zoot (with Zoot Sims), 1977's Satch and Josh…Again (with Oscar Peterson) and 1978's The Gifted Ones (with Basie and Dizzy Gillespie). He won a Grammy in 1980 On the Road and in 1983 earned a Grammy nomination for Farmer's Market Barbecue. Basie remained a tireless road warrior until the end, driving an electric wheelchair onto the stage at performances all over the world. He died of pancreatic cancer on April 26, 1984 at age 79. Basie's legacy was carried on by a tribute band led in turn by Thad Jones, Frank Foster and Grover Mitchell. The current Count Basie Orchestra is under the direction of trombonist Bill Hughes, who appeared with the Basie band at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1957 and 1959. (Milkowski)