The Legendary Count Basie Orchestra

Directed by Dennis Mackrel
w/ Special Guest Carmen Bradford

Big Band Jazz


In his 80 year life span, William “Count” Basie so expanded and elevated the art form that his legacy is regarded as an “American Institution” by modern music’s connoisseurs around the world. Yet the affable “Count” was a very modest gentleman. His motions and musical conversations at the piano closely paralleled his approach to life itself. So one might predict he’d be elated to know that the orchestral institution he founded in 1936 is still thriving today.

William Basie, a New Jersey native from Red Bank, grew up with the tempos of The Swing Era in New York City…live big bands were filling ballrooms with dance rhythms. But toward the close of the Roaring 20’s, it was Kansas City that was drawing notice for Jazz, this new wave of “wide-open” musical style! Young pianist “Bill Basie” landed there while working the national vaudeville circuit and briefly joined Walter Paige’s Blue Devils, then stayed on with The Benny Moten Orchestra.

Jazz experts maintain that Basie at the keyboard signaled the beginning of the Moten band’s historical significance, starting with discs cut in 1932. With Benny Moten’s sudden death 3 years later, Basie went from pianist to bandleader. He took the name “The Count” when his new group headlined at Kansas City’s Reno Club in 1936. They worked long hours every night and the pay was low, but The Count Basie Orchestra had arrived!

His sixth sense quickly assessed each sideman’s potential as an ingredient for the distinctive sound of his group. The Count’s manner earned the resect of his peers, the affection of his players, and contributed to the rapid success of the new group.

With a keyboard touch or two, sound was set into motion. Always swinging, his piano spots became the band’s claim to fame. A simple “Plink, Plink, Plink” closing triplet was all the “signature” his music needed. Despite half a century of changing tastes in popular music, the endurance of The Count Basie Orchestra confirms the genius of his earliest musical instincts.

Kansas City’s Reno Club was the setting for live radio broadcast of THE COUNT BASIE ORCHESTRA within months of its 1935 debut. Jazz critic JOHN HAMMOND heard these programs and was so impressed that he prevailed up Music Corporation of America to sign them, thus bringing BASIE back to Manhattan in 1936.
A recording contract with Decca came next…and as the decade closed, a combination of radio airtime and records had popularized the band from coast to coast. They played the 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco. They were in demand across the land. They would usher in the 1940’s attracting wonderful soloists and bigger crowds.

Post-war film appearances and recordings on the new ‘hi-fi LP discs” with ELLA FITZGERALD, SARAH VAUGHN, JOE WILLIAMS, TONY BENNETT & FRANK SINATRA exported the swinging ‘Basie Sound’ to Europe and the Far East. The demand for records and live appearances became international.
By the 1950’s the Korean War and an economic lull sent the call for “Big Bands” into a decline. However, while other bands were downsizing and vanishing…THE COUNT BASIE ORCHESTRA triumphed with European concert tours a Command Performance for the Queen of England, and a sold-out 13-week Waldorf-Astoria engagement.

By the 1960’s, pundits declared the big band officially dead! All except the COUNT BASIE ORCHESTRA! More European and Southeast Asian tours, regular television & Las Vegas appearances, and crowded schedules of playing dates across North America set a pace that continues unabated.

THE COUNT BASIE ORCHESTRA of TODAY is nineteen performers committed to upholding and advancing this “American Institution.” Some members are new, yet the majority of the sound still swings from musicians handpicked by Count Basie himself. They are in demand for television and films, have won every respected jazz poll in the world at least once, and continue to accumulate awards and special recognitions.

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FRI 9/21, 7:30pm click to purchase tickets
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SAT 9/22, 7:30pm click to purchase tickets
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SAT 9/22, 9:30pm click to purchase tickets
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“…the band is still purring one moment and roaring the next in trademark fashion…” – The Washington Post

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