May 18, 2024

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The Basie-ites: 1956 and ’60: Basie let them record as leaders or behind other artists: Videos

Count Basie held onto his band throughout the 1950s and into the ’60s because he didn’t hold on tight. Rather than insist his musicians play only with him, Basie let them record as leaders or behind other artists whenever the band had extended time off. As a result, virtually all of his bandmembers recorded alone and together during this period. [Photo above of Basie guitarist Freddie Green]

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One of these groups that splintered off from the band to record was known commercially as The Basie-ites. This ad-hoc ensemble recorded two smart albums – one accompanying singer Beverly Kenney in 1956 and the other with pianist Barry Harris on piano in 1960. Both are interesting albums for different reasons.

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In 1956, Kenney recorded Beverly Kenney Sings with Jimmy Jones and the Basie-ites for Roost. The band featured Beverly Kenney (vcl), Joe Newman (tp), Frank Wess (ts,fl), Jimmy Jones (p,arr), Freddie Green (g), Eddie Jones (b) and Jo Jones (d). It was her third and final album for Roost before moving on to Decca. Kenney’s voice here is absolutely gorgeous, with Newman’s muted trumpet playing behind her and Wess’s commanding but eel-y tenor saxophone soloing. Wess also plays flute on the album.

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Interesting how Jones arranged Old Buttermilk Sky to open with the same introduction Miles Davis used on Walkin’ two years earlier. Other gems include Nobody Else But Me, A Fine Romance, Who Cares What People Say, Isn’t It a Lovely Day, My Kind of Love and Makin’ Whoopie. Kenney’s voice had a joyous child-like innocence and fragility, and she always made fascinating and bold on-the-fly note choices.

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I wish someone would report the story of her emotional decline and why she attempted suicide several times before succeeding in 1960. Meds for depression today simply didn’t exist then, leaving people with mental illness to fend for themselves, often with disastrous results. Knowing Kenney’s fate four years later brings a special urgency to her rendition here of Can’t Get Out of This Mood.

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The second Basie-ites album, with Barry Harris on piano in 1960, is The Basie-ites: How High the Moon, for Jubilee. It’s less tightly arranged and the songs are a bit old fashioned for the date, though we do get to hear some spirited Harris with the Basie rhythm section, which is a treat. The Basie-ites this time around included Joe Newman and Thad Jones (tp), Al Grey (tb), Billy Mitchell and Frank Foster (ts), Frank Wess (ts,fl), Barry Harris (p), Freddie Green (g), Eddie Jones (b) and Sonny Payne (d).

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How High the Moon
 works splendidly, with a terrific bop solo by Harris and then each member of the band takes a turn. Poor Butterfly and Stairway to the Stars feature powerful trumpet solos by Joe Newman, the latter with a mute and a solo by Harris. Al Grey solos on When I Think About Lovin’ You,doing so with an It’s Easy to Remember (And So Hard to Forget) feel. Newman is back on My Old Flame and Grey returns on September Song. Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child once again belongs to Newman and Grey is on Blue Moon, with Harris adding yet another tasty bop solo. Newman and Grey play so beautifully throughout that the album has a vocal feel. [Photo above, from left, of Freddie Green, Frank Wess and Al Grey]

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Of course, many more Basie-band configurations flourished in the 1950s and early ’60s. They just didn’t call themselves the Basie-ites. For example, on Sarah Vaughan’s After Hours at the London House, the signer was backed by a Basie-band ensemble. For fun, someone should create a list of all the Basie-ite sessions, whether they went by that name or not. It would be a long list.

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