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The Count Basie Orchestra

2020-07-30
Showtime: 10:30PM
Doors Open at 9:45PM

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The Count Basie Orchestra

In the history of Jazz music, there is only one bandleader that has the distinction of having his orchestra still performing sold out concerts all over the world, with members personally chosen by him, for over 30 years after his passing. Pianist and bandleader William James “Count” Basie was and still is an American institution that personifies the grandeur and excellence of Jazz. The Count Basie Orchestra, today directed by Scotty Barnhart, has won every respected jazz poll in the world at least once, won 18 Grammy Awards, performed for Kings, Queens, and other world Royalty, appeared in several movies, television shows, at every major jazz festival and major concert hall in the world.

Some of the greatest soloists, composers, arrangers, and vocalists in jazz history such as Lester Young, Billie Holiday, Frank Foster, Thad Jones, Sonny Payne, Freddie Green, Snooky Young, Frank Wess, and Joe Williams, became international stars once they began working with the legendary Count Basie Orchestra. This great 18-member orchestra is still continuing the excellent history started by Basie of stomping and shouting the blues, as well as refining those musical particulars that allow for the deepest and most moving of swing.

William “Count” Basie was born in Red Bank, New Jersey in 1904. He began his early playing days by working as a silent movie pianist and organist and by eventually working with the Theater Owners Booking Agency (TOBA) circuit. It is also sometimes referred to as the “chitlin’ circuit” that catered primarily to the African- American communities in the South, East, and Mid-West. In 1927, Basie, then touring with Gonzelle White and the Big Jazz Jamboree, found himself stranded in Kansas City, Missouri. It was here that he would begin to explore his deep love of the Blues, and meet his future band mates including bassist Walter Page.

In the 1920’s and 30’s, Kansas City was headquarters for the territory bands that played the mid and southwest. It was also ground zero for the heady mixture of blues, 4/4 swing rhythms and hot instrumentalists that were to become the standard bearers and precursors for the Swing Era and the underlying rhythm of Modern Jazz. Walter Page’s Blue Devils and Benny Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra caught Basie’s ear and soon he was playing with both and serving as second pianist and arranger for Mr. Moten. In 1935, Bennie Moten died and it was left to Basie to take some of the musicians from that orchestra and form his own, The Count Basie Orchestra, which is still alive and well today some 78 years later. His orchestra epitomized Kansas City Swing and along with the bands of Fletcher Henderson, Jimmy Lunceford, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, Basie’s orchestra would define the big band era.

The “New Testament” Count Basie Orchestra was formed circa 1952 after Basie’s brief hiatus from the full orchestra as he was working with a small group of six to seven pieces during the industry imposed recording ban that began in 1948. With the April In Paris recording in 1955, the orchestra began to set standards of musical achievement that have been emulated by every jazz orchestra since that time. The sound of the orchestra was constantly deepening and getting more precise as each series of non-stop tours were completed. One of the things that set Mr. Basie’s orchestra apart from all others and is one of the secrets to it’s longevity, is the fact the Basie allowed and actually encouraged his musicians to compose and arrange especially for the orchestra and it’s distinctive soloists such as Snooky Young, Thad Jones, Frank Foster, and Frank Wess on flute, who recorded the very first jazz flute solo in history. Eddie Durham, Thad Jones, Ernie Wilkins, Quincy Jones, Neal Hefti, Sammy Nestico, and Frank Foster, to name a few of the more prominent Basie arrangers, have added volumes to the Basie Library. Through them, the Basie repertoire continued to broaden harmonically and rhythmically, making it more than hospitable to the talents of the successive generations of musicians. The orchestra also began to become the first choice for the top jazz vocalists of the day including Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, and of course, Basie’s “Number One Son”, the great Joe Williams.

Since Basie’s passing in 1984, Thad Jones, Frank Foster, Grover Mitchell, Bill Hughes, Dennis Mackrel, and now Scotty Barnhart, have led the Count Basie Orchestra and maintained it as one of the elite performing organizations in Jazz.

Current members include musicians hired by Basie himself: Carmen Bradford (joined in 1983), Clarence Banks (joined in 1984), as well as Mike Williams (1987, formerly w/Glenn Miller, NTSU 1 O’Clock), Doug Miller (1989, formerly w/Lionel Hampton), and members who have joined in the last 15-20 years: Trombonists David Keim (formerly w/Stan Kenton), Alvin Walker and Mark Williams, guitarist Will Matthews, baritone saxophonist Jay Branford, trumpeters Endre Rice, Kris Johnson and Alphonso Horne, saxophonists Marshall McDonald (formerly w/Lionel Hampton, Paquito D’Rivera’s United Nations Jazz Orchestra), Doug Lawrence (formerly w/Benny Goodman, Buck Clayton), and Cleave Guyton (formerly w/Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington Orchestra), alternating pianists Bobby Floyd and Reginald Thomas, bassist Trevor Ware, and the youngest member at 22 years old, Ray Nelson II on drums.

 

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