The History: Jazz is an American invention of the 20th Century. It’s sound is the “modern art” of music. 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.
- “Count Plays Duke” — Count Basie Orchestra. Directed by Grover Mitchell - MAMA RECORDS. *WINNER OF 1999 GRAMMY AWARD / Best Large Jazz Ensemble Performance.*
- “Live At Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild — Count Basie Orchestra.” Directed by Grover Mitchell with the New York Voices. *WINNER OF 1997 GRAMMY AWARD Best Large Jazz Ensemble Performance.*
- “TITO PUENTE - INDIA WITH SPECIAL GUEST THE COUNT BASIE ORCHESTRA.” (RMM, 1996).
- “EVERYDAY I HAVE THE BLUES.” Grammy Hall of Fame Award, 1992.
- “APRIL IN PARIS.” Grammy Hall of Fame Award, 1985.
- “JOE WILLIAMS & THE COUNT BASIE ORCHESTRA.” (Telarc, 1993).
- “THE COUNT BASIE ORCHESTRA LIVE AT EL MOROCCO.” Directed by Frank Foster (TELARC, 1992).
- “GEORGE BENSON BIG BOSS BAND featuring THE COUNT BASIE ORCHESTRA.” Grammy Award, 1991 (Warner Bros., 1991).
- “THE LEGEND, THE LEGACY.” Directed by Frank Foster. 3 Grammy Nominations, 1990 (Dennon, 1990). #1 on Billboard Jazz Chart for 34 Weeks.
- “DIANE SCHUUR & THE COUNT BADIE ORCHESTRA.” 2 Grammy Awards, 1989 (GRP Records, 1989). Frank Foster Grammy for Arranging. On Billboard Jazz Charts for 36 Weeks.
- “LONG LIVE THE CHIEF.” (Dennon, 1987).
- “MANHATTAN TRANSFER.” Grammy Award, 1986.
- Private Jam Session & Performance by COMMAND of the KING OF THAILAND, January 1996
- Montreux Jazz Festival’s 25th Anniversary, July 1991
- Broadcast Premiere of London Radio Station, JAZZ-FM London with ELLA FITZGERALD, March 1990
- West Virginia Gubernatorial Inauguration, James Florio
- Presidential Inauguration (2), Ronald Reagan
- Presidential Inauguration (2), John F. Kennedy
- Royal Command Performance for HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH, II.
- WALL STREET Movie Sound Track accompaniment to FRANK SINATRA
- Television Advertising Campaign: LINCOLN-MERCURY / Division, Ford Motor Company
- Japan — Fukuoka, Tokyo, Osaka, 1998. Blue Note Jazz Clubs, One Week Each, SRO.
- Ronnie Scott’s — London, 1998. Two Weeks, SRO.
- Hollywood Bowl, 1997. Tribute to Ella Fitsgerald.
- Russia, 1995.
- Radio City Music Hall w/ Frank Sinatra, 1994.
- A & E TV Special, Video & CD, 1994. An Evening with Lena Horne featuring the Count Basie Orchestra.
- The Arsenio Hall Show, 1992.
- Royal Albert Hall, 1992.
- Radio City Music Hall w/ Tony Bennett, 1992.
- Radio City Music Hall w/ Tony Bennett, 1991.
- Fox Theatre w/ Tony Bennett, 1989.
- The Cosby Show [Season], 1988.
- Live at London’s Barbicon Centre, 1987.
- Blazing Saddles [Motion Picture], 1986
Critical Acclaim & Awards:
- Grammy Award Winner - 1999 Large Jazz Ensemble Album - “Count Plays Duke”
- Grammy Award Winner - 1997 Large Jazz Ensemble Album - “Live at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild”
- Downbeat Reader’s Poll - 1997 Best Big Band
- Downbeat Reader’s Poll - 1996
- Jazz Times Critic’s & Reader’s Poll - 1995
- Jazz Times Critic’s & Reader’s Poll - 1994
- Downbeat Critic’s Poll - 1994
- Downbeat Reader’s & Critic’s Poll - 1993
- Downbeat Reader’s Poll - 1992
- Downbeat Reader’s & Critic’s Poll - 1991
- Downbeat Reader’s Poll - 1990
- Downbeat Reader’s Poll - 1988
- Downbeat Reader’s & Critic’s Poll - 1986
- Downbeat Reader’s Poll - 1985
- Downbeat Reader’s & Critic’s Poll - 1984
- Downbeat Reader’s Poll - 1983
The Count Basie Orchestra Has Been Awarded The Grammy 17 Times!