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The ultimate challenge to leaden feet

Why is Count Basie considered the greatest swinger? Just hear this tape and you'll know

This is Jazz
Count Basie
Rs 100

With superhuman self-control, let me avoid saying much more about William "Count Basie" than that he was the greatest swinger of the swing age of jazz. His claim to the title becomes evident from this album, and everything else I want to say about him is coming shortly to this website.

Swing was about nothing if it wasn't about rhythm. Here we have the greatest rhythm section in the history of swing jazz -- Basie himself on piano, Freddie Green on guitar, Walter Page on bass, and Jo Jones on drums - setting an inexorable pace which one can imagine turned audiences into automatons tapping their feet, moved by a superior power. Jones was considered the father of modern drumming, not merely keeping time but creating it, propelling the musicians, while Basie's piano kept insinuating little riffs (short, repeated phrases) into the pauses between the main melody instruments.

And then the solos and the soloists! Lester Young on tenor sax, Harry "Sweets" Edison and Buck Clayton on muted and open trumpet, respectively, Vic Dickenson and Dickie Wells on trombones - that's just a partial list of the Basie band's stars during 1936-1944, the period from which this album selects. Every number here has any number of solos, from three to five, in an age when many swing bands weren't even playing jazz but fooling the innocent with sweet, mushy stuff, without solos, masquerading as the real thing.

Listen to One o'clock jump, for long Basie's theme song, with its solos preceding the riff-based theme which ends the piece. Listen to Oh, lady be good, on which Basie improvises even the basic theme, foreshadowing what Charlie Parker and other be-boppers would make one of their trademarks. Listen to Lester leaps in, Dickie's dream or 9:20 special (with a tenor sax solo by Coleman Hawkins jamming with the Basie brigade) and try keeping your feet still.

And if you can achieve the impossible feat of leaden feet right through the album, try it on the grand finale. For the only thing greater than the most swinging swing band could be the greatest swing band joining forces with it. And that's precisely what the Ellington and Basie bands did in July 1961 in a session from which this album takes Jumpin' at the woodside, another perennial Basie favourite. Basie with a light touch playing higher notes, Ellington heavier and lower, contrast their styles in solos before Basie's Frank Wess and Ellington's Paul Gonsalves slug it out through tenor sax solos. Guaranteed to launch you into the stratosphere, it was the best substitute for space travel in the pre-Gagarin age!


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