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.

Count Basie
Chairman of the Board

Jane Bunnett
Cuban Odyssey

Alf Clausen Jazz Orchestra
Swing Can Really Hang You Up the Most

Carl Fontana
The Fifties

Coleman Hawkins
The Best of Coleman Hawkins

Philly Joe Jones Dameronia
Look, Stop and Listen
Featuring Johnny Griffin

Wes Montgomery

Claudio Roditi
Free Wheelin': The Music of Lee Morgan

Horace Silver
Paris Blues

Gary Smulyan
High Noon: The Jazz Soul of Frankie Laine

Various Artists
The Prestige Legacy, Volume 1: The High Priests

Steve Weist
Out of the New

Complete CD Liner Notes Credits
ArtistCD TitleLabel
Eric AlexanderFull RangeCriss Cross Jazz
Helio AlvesPortrait In Black and WhiteReservoir Music
Anush ApoyanA Dedication to Horace SilverBlack & Blue
Robert Bachner & Helmar HillEin feiner ZugATS
Thomas Barber's Janus BlocSnow RoadD Clef
Carl Bartlett, Jr.Hopeful
Count BasieChairman of the BoardRoulette Jazz
Roni Ben-HurSignatureReservoir Music
Walter BlandingThe Olive TreeCriss Cross Jazz
Don BradenAfter DarkCriss Cross Jazz
Jane BunnettCuban OdysseyEMI Music Canada
Sharel CassityRelentlessJazz Legacy Productions
Al ClausenSwing Can Really Hang You Up the MostSunny NoDak
Steve DavisVibe Up!Criss Cross Jazz
Dena DeRoseIntroducing Dena DeRoseSharp Nine
Dena DeRoseUnitedHigh Note
Orrin EvansGrown Folk BiznessCriss Cross Jazz
John Fedchock New York Big BandNo NonsenseReservoir Music
John Fedchock New York Big BandUp & RunningReservoir Music
Carl FontanaThe FiftiesUptown
Sayuri GotoFlashbackFever Pitch
Sayuri GotoPrayerFever Pitch
Jimmy GreeneIntroducing Jimmy GreeneCriss Cross Jazz
Coleman HawkinsThe Best of Coleman Hawkins [Prestige Profiles: Coleman Hawkins]Prestige
David HazeltineA World for HerCriss Cross Jazz
Conrad HerwigHeart of DarknessCriss Cross Jazz
Jane JarvisSagmo's SongFaith
Jane Jarvis & Benny PowellTwo of a KindFaith
Ingrid JensenHere on EarthEnja
Philly Joe Jones DameroniaLook, Stop and Listen Featuring Johnny GriffinUptown
David KikoskiAlmost TwilightCriss Cross Jazz
Yuko KimoraA Beautiful Friendship
Yuko KimoraNexus
Yuko KimuraBridges
Ryan KisorThe DreamCriss Cross Jazz
Marilyn LernerBirds Are ReturningJazz Focus
Achilles LiarmakopolousTrombone Atrivedo Opening Day
Gene LudwigThe Groove ORGANizationBlues Leaf
Joe MagnarelliMr. MagsCriss Cross Jazz
Virgina MayhewNini GreenChiaroscuro
Virginia MayhewNo WallsFoxhaven
Virginia MayhewPhantomsRenma
Virginia MayhewSandan ShuffleRenma
Virginia MayhewA Simple Thank YouRenma
Virginia Mayhew Mary Lou Williams: The Next 100 YearsRenma
Adriana MikiSashimikiApria
Wes MontgomeryDangerousMilestone
Dave PanichiBlues for McCoySpirit Song
Roberta PiketSoloThirteenth Note
Roberta PiketOne for MarianThirteenth Note
Roberta PiketWest Coast TrioThirteenth Note
Valery PonomarevBeyond the ObviousReservoir Music
Valery PonomarevThe MessengerReservoir Music
Valery PonomarevOur Father Who Art BlakeyZoho
Benny PowellCoast 2 CoastFaith
Benny PowellThe Gift of LoveFaith
Melvin RhyneKojoCriss Cross Jazz
Claudio RoditiDouble StandardsReservoir Music
Claudio RoditiFree Wheelin'Reservoir Music
Adonis RoseThe UnityCriss Cross Jazz
Jim RotundiReverenceCriss Cross Jazz
Harvie S & Sheryl BaileyPlucky StrumWhaling City Sound
Horace SilverParis BluesPablo
Gary SmulyanHigh Noon: The Jazz Soul of Frankie LaineReservoir Music
Doug TalleyNight and DaySerpentine
Uptown FiveUptown SwingHarlem
Various Artists: Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins & John ColtraneThe Prestige Legacy, Volume 1: The High PriestsPrestige
Ceder Walton, Ron Carter & Billy Higgins: Sweet Basil TrioSt. ThomasEvidence Music
Walt WeiskopfAnytownCriss Cross Jazz
Steve WeistOut of the NewArabesque
Deborah WeiszBreaking Up, Breaking OutVah Wa
Rich WilleyGone with the PiggiesConsolidated Artists Productions

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