Count Basie - Chairman of the Board - Roulette Jazz 81664
In 1950, weary of the road and discouraged by a drop in bookings, Count Basie broke up his nonpareil big band. He continued to perform with an all-star septet, but, the ultimate big band warrior, Basie missed the power and glory of sixteen men swinging. So, in the fall of 1951 the Count began to reassemble his orchestra - but with a difference.
Where the original band was built largely around its corps of distinctive solo voices, Basie founded his new edition on an ever-growing book of first-rate charts by top-rung arrangers. It quickly evolved into an ensemble of amazing power and precision, but also one of many moods and colors, as strong at pianissimo as it was at fortissimo, as swinging at slow tempos as it was at fast ones. But make no mistake, this reborn unit was packed with accomplished soloists. One by one, the Count brought in modern, bop-inspired improvisors who also were completely at home in the Basie idiom.
This rebuilt Basie band first recorded for Norman Granz' Clef and Verve labels, but in 1957 joined the fledgling Roulette stable. Basie's first two Roulette releases were composed and arranged entirely by Neal Hefti, and an all-Quincy Jones record would follow. But the Count didn't rely only on freelance arrangers to build his book. There were some superb writers inside the band - saxophonists Frank Foster and Frank Wess, and trumpeter Thad Jones - and their work, along with that of former Basie saxophonist and frequent contributor Ernie Wilkins, was showcased on Chairman of the Board, arguably the finest album of big band jazz made during the LP era.
Blues had been a staple of the original Basie band's diet, and it was still on the menu in 1958. Six of the ten original Chairman of the Board tracks are blues, an object lesson in the infinite variety of the twelve-bar form, especially in the hands of one of its greatest practitioners. For starters, the riff-based theme and eight-to-the-bar feel of Frank Foster's Blues in Hoss' Flat are distinct echoes of the band's Kansas City roots. Basie's all-purpose trumpet soloist, Joe Newman, handles the plunger work, and Henry Coker provides the forthright trombone statement.
A souvenir of the band's visit to England in late 1957, H.R.H. (Her Royal Highness) by Thad Jones, appears to open with an appropriately majestic brass fanfare. But that "fanfare" is actually the first two bars of Jones' melody, and this royal tribute is, in fact, a blues. Be sure to pay particular attention to the richly harmonized, beautifully executed second chorus, in which Al Grey's trombone soars over the saxophone section. From beginning to end, this charming cameo is a fully realized, through-composed work, a miniature masterpiece for jazz orchestra.
Next, Frank Wess makes his pitch with Segue in C, a six-minute exposition on the blues that is as relaxed as Foster's chart is rocking, as subtle as Jones' piece is sophisticated. Basie and the rhythm section set the groove, and then Wess eases in for three smooth choruses on tenor. After the clever flute and muted trumpet head, Al Grey shouts the blues with his trombone and plunger as only he could.
Except for some strategically placed spots for the Chief's piano, Kansas City Shout, by Ernie Wilkins, is a vehicle for the full band. The second chorus belongs to the remarkable saxophone section, from Marshal Royal's meticulous lead alto down to Charlie Fowlkes rock-solid baritone, five men playing, breathing, thinking as one.
According to his autobiography, Good Morning Blues, Basie had no idea that one of the most influential and prolific composer-arrangers of the twentieth century happened to be sitting on the near end of the trumpet section, until his trusted straw boss, Marshal Royal, pulled the Boss' coat. Speaking of Sounds reveals Thad Jones' penchant for intricate lines, unusual voicings, and ear-catching instrumental colors (in this instance, flute, clarinet, and bass clarinet). The composer's unison duet with bassist Eddie Jones evolves seamlessly into his own animated improvisation, and Frank Foster solos authoritatively on tenor. And dig Freddie Green, who put down his guitar to play the shaker on this track.
When you add it all up, TV Time by Frank Foster is even greater than the sum of its formidable parts: Snooky Young's tasty cup mute solo, another marvelously performed saxophone soli, sixteen bars of Joe Newman with Harmon mute, a chorus of ensemble riffs, and a shout chorus that lands, inevitably, on Basie's signature "plink, plink, plink." Clearly, Foss - who, like Jones, would emerge as an important writer and bandleader - had already mastered Basie's three keys to a successful arrangement, as the saxophonist once enumerated them, "simplicity, swing, and leaving spaces for the rhythm section. One of the main things he always said to me was, 'Kid, swing that music.'"
Normally, lead trumpeter Snooky Young could be heard at the very top of the Basie band, sparking the ensemble with a combination of bravura and good taste. But, as the previous track already has shown, Young was also a gifted and original soloist, and he gets another chance to stretch out on Frank Foster's blues, Who, Me?, first with cup mute for two choruses, and then blowing his open horn over the closing shout chorus.
The Deacon, by Thad Jones, features some richly blocked brass writing over a finger-popping groove, while the stunning choir in the first four bars of the second chorus recalls "H.R.H." Listening to Jones' spirited trumpet solo some forty-five years later, trombonist Benny Powell declared, "Magnificent! That's all the blues you'd ever want to hear!" After Jones has his say, Al Grey testifies for two choruses before the full congregation gets back into the act.
A whirlwind introduction blows the band into Half Moon Street, a masterful Frank Wess chart that says "Basie" in every bar. Thad Jones displays his singular gift for phrasing and time before Al Grey literally slides in, showing that he is every bit as adept with the open horn as he is with his trademark plunger. Drummer Sonny Payne propels this powerhouse - and, for that matter, the entire album - with his blend of showmanship and musicianship.
Frank Wess' flute and Eddie Jones' bass are cast in the title roles in Thad Jones' Mutt & Jeff, one final take on the blues featuring a sly and funky solo by Wess, a pioneer of modern jazz flute playing. And this is as good a place as any to point out the invaluable contributions of two of the band's unsung heroes. The light touch of bassist Eddie Jones never fails to steer the ensemble through a steady course, laying down all the right notes in all the right places, and always in tune. But the motor of the Basie juggernaut is stalwart rhythm guitarist Freddie Green, often more felt than heard, relentlessly chomp-chomp-chomp-chomping four beats to every measure like Father Time himself. If quarter-notes were quarters, Green, who joined Basie in 1937 and never left him, would have died a millionaire.
The first of two bonus tracks, Ernie Wilkins' Fair and Warmer is an easy, appealing swinger that also was recorded by Harry James and his band. This version offers more welcomed opportunities to enjoy Marshal Royal's lyrical lead alto on the melody, another sample of Henry Coker's genial and witty trombone, and a brief taste of Frank Foster's no-nonsense tenor saxophone.
Before "One O'clock Jump," the Count's original theme song was Moten Swing, first recorded in 1932 by Bennie Moten's Kansas City-based band with young Bill Basie on piano. In Ernie Wilkins' updated chart the leader handles the first chorus with typical economy and understatement, the band introduces the once heard, never forgotten theme, and Frank Wess on tenor and Joe Newman on muted trumpet split a chorus. The full ensemble returns with an infectious variation that builds into some brass-versus-saxes riffing, bringing the performance, and the disc, to a joyous close.
I trust the reader will pardon me if I end on a personal note. A few years ago, as I was interviewing Frank Foster for a magazine profile, I mentioned that as a kid, discovering this music during the late 1960s and early 1970, this Basie band was, for me, the definition of jazz. Foss grinned and replied emphatically, "It was the definition of jazz." And this quintessential reissue proves why, to its still-growing legion of fans, this one-of-a-kind musical institution remains, for now and always, the definition of jazz.
Special thanks go to Frank Foster and Benny Powell, for their invaluable help in identifying many of the soloists on these classic tracks.
|Complete CD Liner Notes Credits|
|Eric Alexander||Full Range||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Helio Alves||Portrait In Black and White||Reservoir Music|
|Anush Apoyan||A Dedication to Horace Silver||Black & Blue|
|Robert Bachner & Helmar Hill||Ein feiner Zug||ATS|
|Thomas Barber's Janus Bloc||Snow Road||D Clef|
|Carl Bartlett, Jr.||Hopeful|
|Count Basie||Chairman of the Board||Roulette Jazz|
|Roni Ben-Hur||Signature||Reservoir Music|
|Walter Blanding||The Olive Tree||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Don Braden||After Dark||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Jane Bunnett||Cuban Odyssey||EMI Music Canada|
|Sharel Cassity||Relentless||Jazz Legacy Productions|
|Al Clausen||Swing Can Really Hang You Up the Most||Sunny NoDak|
|Steve Davis||Vibe Up!||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Dena DeRose||Introducing Dena DeRose||Sharp Nine|
|Dena DeRose||United||High Note|
|Orrin Evans||Grown Folk Bizness||Criss Cross Jazz|
|John Fedchock New York Big Band||No Nonsense||Reservoir Music|
|John Fedchock New York Big Band||Up & Running||Reservoir Music|
|Carl Fontana||The Fifties||Uptown|
|Sayuri Goto||Flashback||Fever Pitch|
|Sayuri Goto||Prayer||Fever Pitch|
|Jimmy Greene||Introducing Jimmy Greene||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Coleman Hawkins||The Best of Coleman Hawkins [Prestige Profiles: Coleman Hawkins]||Prestige|
|David Hazeltine||A World for Her||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Conrad Herwig||Heart of Darkness||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Jane Jarvis||Sagmo's Song||Faith|
|Jane Jarvis & Benny Powell||Two of a Kind||Faith|
|Ingrid Jensen||Here on Earth||Enja|
|Philly Joe Jones Dameronia||Look, Stop and Listen Featuring Johnny Griffin||Uptown|
|David Kikoski||Almost Twilight||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Yuko Kimora||A Beautiful Friendship|
|Ryan Kisor||The Dream||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Marilyn Lerner||Birds Are Returning||Jazz Focus|
|Achilles Liarmakopolous||Trombone Atrivedo ||Opening Day|
|Gene Ludwig||The Groove ORGANization||Blues Leaf|
|Joe Magnarelli||Mr. Mags||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Virgina Mayhew||Nini Green||Chiaroscuro|
|Virginia Mayhew||No Walls||Foxhaven|
|Virginia Mayhew||Sandan Shuffle||Renma|
|Virginia Mayhew||A Simple Thank You||Renma|
|Virginia Mayhew|| Mary Lou Williams: The Next 100 Years||Renma|
|Dave Panichi||Blues for McCoy||Spirit Song|
|Roberta Piket||Solo||Thirteenth Note|
|Roberta Piket||One for Marian||Thirteenth Note|
|Valery Ponomarev||Beyond the Obvious||Reservoir Music|
|Valery Ponomarev||The Messenger||Reservoir Music|
|Valery Ponomarev||Our Father Who Art Blakey||Zoho|
|Benny Powell||Coast 2 Coast||Faith|
|Benny Powell||The Gift of Love||Faith|
|Melvin Rhyne||Kojo||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Claudio Roditi||Double Standards||Reservoir Music|
|Claudio Roditi||Free Wheelin'||Reservoir Music|
|Adonis Rose||The Unity||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Jim Rotundi||Reverence||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Harvie S & Sheryl Bailey||Plucky Strum||Whaling City Sound|
|Horace Silver||Paris Blues||Pablo|
|Gary Smulyan||High Noon: The Jazz Soul of Frankie Laine||Reservoir Music|
|Doug Talley||Night and Day||Serpentine|
|Uptown Five||Uptown Swing||Harlem|
|Various Artists: Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins & John Coltrane||The Prestige Legacy, Volume 1: The High Priests||Prestige|
|Ceder Walton, Ron Carter & Billy Higgins: Sweet Basil Trio||St. Thomas||Evidence Music|
|Walt Weiskopf||Anytown||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Steve Weist||Out of the New||Arabesque|
|Deborah Weisz||Breaking Up, Breaking Out||Vah Wa|
|Rich Willey||Gone with the Piggies||Consolidated Artists Productions|