'Jumpin' At The Woodside' Catches Count Basie And His Band Honing Their Art | KERA News

'Jumpin' At The Woodside' Catches Count Basie And His Band Honing Their Art

Feb 13, 2017
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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Count Basie's band from Kansas City reached New York in December of 1936. Musicians took note immediately. But the general public took a little longer.

Basie's big break came in July 1938 when the band started broadcasting from the 52nd Street club The Famous Door. Music from those broadcasts makes up half of a new sampler of live Basie from that period. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says it's choice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SENT FOR YOU YESTERDAY")

JIMMY RUSHING: (Singing) Sent for you yesterday, baby, here you come today. Sent for you yesterday, baby, here you come today. Baby, you can't love me and treat me that way.

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Vocalist Jimmy Rushing with Count Basie's band in 1939. Nobody ever sounded jollier singing the blues, and no band sounded happier playing it. Basie specialized in the brand of blues that laughs at trouble. The music's exceptional buoyancy stem from a four-piece rhythm section with Basie on piano.

Folks often say rhythm guitarist Freddie Green was more felt than heard. But sometimes, his comping beat came through loud and clear.

(SOUNDBITE OF COUNT BASIE COMPOSITION)

WHITEHEAD: Drummer Jo Jones and bassist Walter Page round out that rhythm quartet. This music's from a new download-only album "Jumpin' At The Woodside: Vol. 2 Of The Savory Collection." It's live Basie from 1938 to 1940 recorded off the radio by engineer Bill Savory and now cleaned up for release by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.

The sound is pretty good and the music's pretty terrific. Basie's biggest star was tenor saxophonist Lester Young with his wistful, faraway tone and willful lagging behind the beat. He'd honk on one note just to toy with the rhythm.

(SOUNDBITE OF COUNT BASIE'S, "HONEYSUCKLE ROSE")

WHITEHEAD: Lester Young in 1938, on "Honeysuckle Rose." Basie actually featured two tenor saxophonists as friendly rivals. Herschel Evans had a more overtone-rich timbre and sometimes played more ornate lines. But he dug Lester's momentum.

(SOUNDBITE OF COUNT BASIE'S, "HONEYSUCKLE ROSE")

WHITEHEAD: Herschel Evans on tenor sax and Harry Sweets Edison on trumpet. The star soloists get plenty of exposure. But the classic Basie band was about the sections, deployed in classic Kansas-City style. Trumpets and trombones and saxophones would set contrasting riffs behind a soloist and push them along. Some of those riffs were spontaneous, and some written to sound that way.

(SOUNDBITE OF EDDIE DURHAM'S "SWINGING THE BLUES")

WHITEHEAD: That's Sweets Edison again on trumpet.

(SOUNDBITE OF EDDIE DURHAM'S "SWINGING THE BLUES")

WHITEHEAD: Eddie Durham's "Swinging The Blues," whose title sums up the Count Basie story. The collection "Jumping At The Woodside" catches his band honing its art every time it hit the bandstand. The swing era had been going about three years before Basie broke through. He had some serious competition, but his crew made most everybody up their game. Count Basie's band made some of those swing outfits sound like they were standing still.

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and TONEAudio and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed Count Basie "Jumpin' At The Woodside: The Savory Collection" which is available for download from the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.

(SOUNDBITE OF COUNT BASIE COMPOSITION)

GROSS: After we take a short break. Sarah Hepola will tell us why she's never been a fan of Valentine's Day. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.