Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Listening to Prestige 284: Basie Reunion

You could say that Weinstock and co. are still marking time, but that would be wrong. Bringing a collection of some of Count Basie's greatest sidemen together, along with pianist Nat Pierce, who did Basie better than anyone except Basie, in a group led by Paul Quinichette, who did Lester better than anyone except Lester, and what you've got is a recipe for nothing less than a soufflé of great music.

And this is one soufflé that doesn't collapse as you're taking it out of the oven.

But...if you're offered a recording of Basie musicians paying Basie's tunes, why not just pass it up and buy a Basie record?

Well, for one thing, you can never have enough good music. And if the musicians are this good, it's always going to be different. Nat Pierce can be Basie the piano player, but he can't be Basie the bandleader, so that role seems to fall to Paul Quinichette, who may not have seniority as a Basie-ite, but who has Prestige seniority as an on-and-off regular. And it's all worth having, and it's all worth listening to, and I am a better, more fulfilled person for having listened to it.

And besides, while this may be a Basie dream band (or dream small group), it isn't the current Basie band, or even precisely any one Basie aggregation.

Jo Jones goes back the farthest. He was already with the band when Basie took it over on the death of Bennie Moten, and remained behind the drums until 1948. Jack Washington, not so well known as the others but with the reputation of a jazzman's jazzman on baritone sax, was with Basie from the beginning, and stayed till 1950. Freddie Green came along just a little later, in 1937, and never left. He anchored the Basie rhythm section for five decades.

Buck Clayton spent some great years with Basie, from 1936 until he was drafted into the army in 1943. Earlier in the 1930s, he had a rather remarkable expatriate career, not in France or Sweden, but in China, where he led a group called the Harlem Gentlemen, and mentored the Chinese composer Li Jinhui, who revolutionized Chinese music before the revolution. After the revolution, Li's music was banned in China as decadent and western, and he became an enemy of the people.

So none of these guys played with Eddie Jones, who joined in 1953 and was the only active Basie-ite when this session was cut, remaining with the band until 1962, after which he went to work for IBM, which means he probably overlapped with me at IBM, though not in the same city. As a Basie-ite, he overlapped with Quinichette (1952-56).

When they get together, latecomers, early-leavers and lifers alike, they all know what to do. As ex-Marines are fond of saying, you're never an ex-Marine, and it seems you're never really an ex-Basie man either. The tunes are Basie classics. With a smaller group, there's more room for soloists, especially compared to the late 1950s version of Basie's group, where the emphasis was more on arrangements and ensemble play. It's hardly necessary to say how good Buck Clayton and Paul Quinichette are. Nat Pierce has some very nice solo moments, where he does more than just play the Count note for note. He has a musical persona of his own. There's just a great drum solo by Papa Jo Jones on "John's Idea."

I'm not exactly sure what qualifies this is a Prestige All Stars session. More like a Prestige Guest Stars session. But they are all stars, and I'm glad to have them.

The album was released on Prestige as Basie Reunion, and was later rereleased on Swingville when Weinstock started branching out into those subsidiary labels that appealed to diverse specialized tastes.

Order Listening to Prestige Vol 2

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1954-1956 is here! You can order your signed copy or copies through the link above.

Tad Richards will strike a nerve with all of us who were privileged to have lived thru the beginnings of bebop, and with those who have since fallen under the spell of this American phenomenon…a one-of-a-kind reference book, that will surely take its place in the history of this music.

                                                                                                                                                --Dave Grusin

An important reference book of all the Prestige recordings during the time period. Furthermore, Each song chosen is a brilliant representation of the artist which leaves the listener free to explore further. The stories behind the making of each track are incredibly informative and give a glimpse deeper into the artists at work.
                                                                                                                --Murali Coryell

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