"Class of '54
The year 1950 was a significant if not a happy one for Count Basie. It was certainly something of a landmark because it saw the dissolution of his big band and, in its place, the formation of a small group. In 1936 William Count Basie was a relatively unknown band leader in Kansas City. He had, however, attracted the interest of John Hammond through a local radio spot and it was the young critic who had initiated the band's first national tour, ending in New York in the following year. When the band made its recording debut in 1937, its line-up already boasted the major talents of trumpeter Buck Clayton, saxophonists Lester Young and Herschel Evans, vocalist Jimmy Rushing and a rhythm team that included bassist Walter Page and drummer Jo Jones. The arrival of guitarist Freddie Green provided the last peice in a rhythmic jig-saw that rightly became known as the All American Rhythm Section.
From then on, a string of superb recordings brought the orchestra to the forefront of the jazz world. Its special identity was distinguished by four even beats to the bar and its own brand of propulsiveness was delivered with a unique lightness of tough. Trumpeter Harry Edison and gifted trombonist Dicky Wells further strengthened the band in 1938 and, with arrangers such as Jimmy Mundy, Andy Gibson and Buster Harding providing purpose built charts and with inspirational solos pouring from men like Young, Wells and Clayton, the whole package seemed to be complete.
Unfortunately, nothing was permanent. World War II brought about disruption in all the bands. The music itself continued to evolve and the changing face of jazz in the late forties made life for all big bands very difficultt. What had once seemed impossible, now seemed inevitable and when, in January 1950, Basie decided to go with a smaller unity, the jazz world was saddened but not suprised.
The first combo was a sextet with trumpeter Clark Terry, clarinettist Buddy DeFranco, tenor saxophonist Bob Graf, bassist Jimmy Lewis, guitarist Freddie Green and drummer Gus Johnson. It was not long before the legendary Wardell Gray replaced Graf in the tenor chair and, while the group enjoyed a brief residency at the Hi hat Club in Boston, they were joined by bariton saxophonist Serge Chaloff. Columbia Records documented the octet's existence but, surprisingly, Basie did not keep his former sidemen informed about his acitivies. Freddie Green is reputed to have heard about the group on the grapevine and Harry Edison is another who found out about the changed circumstances by hearsay. It was almost as if the leader was almost ashamed not to be heading a big band.
Such reservations were certainly misplaced and, when Joe Williams first sang with Basie at the Brass Rail in Chicago during 1950, he told of a very potent unity, producing music that was a logical truncation of the orchestral ideal. For his part, however, Basie was not happy and, towards the end of 1951, he decided to re-form a big band. That orchestra opened at the Savoy in New York City in October and its personnel included, with Basie, seven men included in this album's line-up.
The change in stylistic motivation from the great thirties/forties band was marked but, with arrangers like Neal Hefi, Ernie Wilkins and Johnny Mandel working for them, a new identity was established. The famous 'Dance Sessions,' recorded for Cleff, introduced the new regime to an international audience and they showed the extent of the change. The emphasis had switched to ensemble precision but, to the relief of the band's faithful followers, it was achieved with no loss in swing power. In terms of sheer momentum, the Basie/Green/Lewis and Johnson team were especially impressive and could well be rated amongst the most dynamic of all Basie sections. Ironicqally, it was only Johnson's hospitalization for appendicties, a matter of months after these two sessions, that opened the door to Sonny Payne for a place as sideman that was to last for many years. There is no doubt, however, that it was Johnson who set the pattern for drummers in the new Basie orchestra and he was a distinctly potent force in both big band and nonet.
This 1954 full band was recorded at the American Legion Park in Ephrata, Pennsylvania and they presented a programme that was to become typical in concerts right up to the time of Basie's death in 1984. The magnificent brass ensemble is showcased on Blee Blop Blues and You For Me, the latter something of a cold run for the famous and later Whirly Bird. In the former, it is the trumpets that really excel and they make this something of a tour de force for their section. The reeds are similarly impressive with Bubbles, Blee Blob Blues and Perdido outstanding. Two For The Blues gets a highly unusual reading, with the unison tenors of Foster and Wess speaking as one. Marshall Royal is the alto balladeer on You're Not The Kind and Henry Coker brings the full weight of his trombone virtuosity to bear on Yesterdays. Basie is himself in puckish form, his introductions to You For Me and Bubbles are adroitly economical and his ensemble fill-ins and astute asides are placed with a master's touch. The entire rhythm section plays superbly, although it could be claimed that their finest moments come on Jonesy, where they truly lead from the back.
The same team, with Jones in place of Lewis from the Dance Sessions, are to found on the nonet date recorded in Boston, Massachusetts by George Wein. In the past, many bands-within-a-band have sounded very different to the parent unit. The likes of Artie Shaw's Gramercy Five, Bob Crosby's Bobcats and the Goodman Sextet have taken their jazz some distance from the original style of the orchestra. Even Count Basie's earlier Kansas City Seven struck out from the mainstream style of the main band. here the nonet go on a different tack and offer a big band style in miniature. Inevitably they make room for more extended solos but In Case You Didn't Know is the only title on which every horn has its individual say. One the remainder, the well laid out arrangements allow just the right amount of solo space.
The trick is the impression that is created. The ensemble playing throughout Peter Pan and the reed opening on Ain''t It The Truth, in particular, do tend to create the illusion of a big band. As ever, Basie is at the helm, controlling the emotinal input and dictating just the right tempo for each exposition. On Confessin' he actually moves over to the organ and takes a solo that again confirms his status as the most brilliant of all pre-Jimmy Smith organists. The same title also has Joe Newman at his finest, exposing his root in the style of Louis Armstrong, staying near to the theme and showing that such a policy can still produce pure jazz.
Wess' excellent ballad treatment of These Foolish Things is similarly restrained but it is his fine flute work throughout the date that is most challenging. Foster takes the more hard bop route and has his best moments on In Case You Didn't Know and Peter Pan. Henry Coker is also well featured and makes good musical sense of Peter Pan and he and Charlie Fowlkes also play well on the gutsy Ingin' The Ooh, a more than close derivative of the Basie classic Swinging The Blues.
This album offers an invaluable opportunity to compare the 1954 orchestra with its contemproary, smaller personnel, for these are the men, who, in the following ten years, would make this such a unque band. All had paid their dues elsewhere but they came together under Count Basie to form a band that purveyed both discipline and excitement. It was like the Jimmy Lunceford Band with fire added below.
1. In Case You Didn'T Know 05:37
2. These Foolish Things (a) 03:22
3. Peter Pan (a) 02:58
4. Ain't It The Truth (a) 03:58
5. Ingin` The Ooh (a) 05:23
6. Confessin' (a) 03:27
7. These Foolish Things (Alt. Take) (a) 03:17
8. In Case You Didn't Know (Alt. Take) (a) 03:34
9. One O'Clock Jump (Intro) (b) 00:49
10. You For Me (b) 03:19
11. Bubbles (b) 04:03
12. You're Not The Kind (b) 03:06
13. Jonesy (b) 03:08
14. Two For The Blues (b) 02:35
15. Blee Blop Blues (b) 02:35
16. Yesterdays (b) 03:03
17. Perdido (b) 03:20
WENDELL CULLEY (Trumpet), REUNALD JONES (Trumpet), THAD JONES (Trumpet), JOE NEWMAN (Trumpet)(a), HENRY COKER (Trombone)(a), BILL HUGHES (Trombone), BENNY POWELL (Trombone), MARSHALL ROYAL (Alto Saxophone, Calrinet), ERNIE WILKINS (Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone), FRANK WESS (Tenor Saxophone, Flute)(a), FRANK FOSTER (Tenor Saxophone)(a), CHARLIE FOWLKES (Baritone Saxophone)(a), COUNT BASIE (Piano, Organ)(a), FREDDIE GREEN (Guitar)(a), ED JONES (Bass)(a), GUS JOHNSON (Drums)(a)
(a) Nonet Tracks Recorded In Boston, Mass. 7th September 1954 By George Wein
(b) Band Tracks Recorded At The American Legion Park, Ephrata, Penn. By WLAN, 2nd September 1954
Album Produced By Alan Bates
Sleeve Photograph: Chuck Stewart
Sleeve Design: Malcolm Walker
This Compilation _ + (c) 1989 Phonoco International Ltd.
Remastering By: THEIN Studios