Count Basie - piano; Al Aarons - trumpet; Oscar Brashear - trumpet; Gene Goe - trumpet; Sonny Cohn - trumpet; Harry "Sweets" Edison - trumpet; Bobby Plater - alto sax; Marshall Royal - alto sax; Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis - tenor sax; Eric Dixon - tenor sax, flute; Charlie Fowlkes - baritone sax; Richard Boone - trombone; Frank Hooks - trombone; Bill Hughes - trombone; Grover Mitchell - trombone; Freddie Green - guitar; Norman Keenan - bass; Harold Jones - drums; Special guest:; Joe Williams - vocals
A perennial favorite at the Newport Jazz Festival, Count Basie was feted at George Wein's very first clambake in 1954 and subsequently appeared every year since, leading up to this appearance at the 1968 bash on Narragansett Bay. For this special occasion, Basie was reunited with the great jazz singer Joe Williams, who had come up with the Basie organization in the '50s and embarked on a solo career in 1962. To start off this brief set of music we hear a snippet of "Everyday I have the Blues," the tune that put Williams on the map with the Basie band back in 1955. Williams and the Basie juggernaut follow-up with an earthy shuffle-swing reading of "Cherry Red," the Big Joe Turner hit from 1939. Al Aarons is featured on a brilliant high-note trumpet solo on this swaggering blues. The orchestra concludes its set with a rousing rendition of Basie's theme song, "One O'Clock Jump," which he wrote in 1937.
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 recordings First Time: The Count Meets the Duke each jazz icon providing four numbers from his playbook.
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 for 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.
Singer Joe Williams captivated audiences with his smooth, soulful baritone voice during the 1950s with the Count Basie Orchestra and continued to be a favorite of audiences well into the 1990s. Born in Cordele, Georgia on December 12, 1918, he moved to Chicago with his grandmother at the age of three and reunited with his mother, who taught him to play the piano and also took him to performances of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as well as performances by the bands of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Cab Calloway. Williams began performing at local social events and later formed his own gospel vocal quartet, the Jubilee Boys. By the end of the 1930s, he began working the Chicago club scene, appearing with orchestras led by Jimmie Noone and Les Hite. By the early to mid 1940s, he had sung with Coleman Hawkins and Lionel Hampton and also toured with Andy Kirk & His Clouds of Joy. He had a minor hit in 1952 with "Every Day I Have the Blues," recorded for the Checker label, a subsidiary of the more famous Chess label. Williams broke through to a much higher profile after being hired in 1954 as the male vocalist for the Count Basie Orchestra, replacing Basie's longtime and much beloved vocalist, Jimmy Rushing. Williams became a major star with Basie through the 1950s and struck out on his own in 1961, working primarily in small group settings. His 1963 debut as a leader on RCA, Jump for Joy, included former Basie-ites Thad Jones, Clark Terry, and Snooky Young. That same year he recorded the exhilarating At Newport '63 and by 1966 was back recording in a big band format with Presenting Joe Williams and the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra on the Blue Note label.
Williams toured and recorded consistently through the '70s and '80s, then gained greater visibility by landing a recurring role as Heathcliff Huxtable's father-in-law on the popular television series The Cosby Show. When Basie died in 1984, Williams sang a rendition of Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday" at his funeral. He later recorded for the Verve and Telarc labels during the '90s (including a 1993 reunion with the Count Basie Orchestra under the direction of Frank Foster on Live at Orchestra Hall, Detroit). He died at age 80 on March 29, 1999. (Milkowski)