Pages 12-13 of Crescendo, July 1962, Vol.1, No.1. Both pages feature an article on the continuing influence and relevance of the music of Count Basie.
|Catalogue Reference Number|
|Creator||Tony Brown [ed], Benny Green|
|Title or Caption||Basie: vital in the musician's education.|
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ï»¿Basie: vital in the musicianâs
^PHE other day I was talking to a fellow jazz loverâ1 wonât say critic because that, unfortunately, is not always the same thingâand he told me he was shocked at himself because Count Basieâs Band was on television that night and yet the thought of watching it did not seem attractive enough to bother. I, who did not even know Basie was on the box, went home to watch, just to be virtuous. Now the Basie band has its limitations. It is stylised and imprisoned within its own narrow conception. It has no trulv great soloist, and fails to meet the most important qualification of an outstanding orchestra, which is that it must not always be predictable.
Even so, the Basie band symbolises something of supreme importance in jazz today, and that something came over very clearly on the television. The programme opened with the rhythm section playing a variant of âI Got Rhythmâ, with Basie pecking away on piano as he has been doing for the last thirty years. The rhythmic power and exhilaration were unmistakable, and it occurred to me that although the Basie band is regarded by the current generation of young uninformed hipsters as modern, the music really is as old as Greta Garbo and penny bus fares.
The categories of traditional, mainstream and modern have always struck me as being inane, inadequate and insincere. They mean nothing at all, and have been established only for critical convenience. Todayâs Basie band demonstrates that the term Modernism is ready for a complete overhaul, because if the Basie band is modern and John Coltrane is modern, then something has gone seriously wrong with our definitions. Today there are two distinct subdivisions of modernism. There are those artists who respect tradition and lean
heavily upon it, like Basie, and those who feel that unless every rule of discord and resolution is disregarded, jazz will die. Today all kinds of musical atrocities are committed in the name of jazz, and the Basie band serves as a telling example of what jazz ought to be.
The same contrast between one kind of modernist and the other was vividly illustrated recently when John Coltrane and Zoot Sims were in London at the same time. When Charlie Parker introduced a whole new harmonic vocabulary into jazz, all kinds of nonsense were spoken. Panassie said it wasnât jazz at all when what he really meant was that he didnât understand it. Some of the hipsters said Parkerâs was the only jazz, when what they really meant was that they were too lazy to listen to anything else.
Both factions were wrong, but as the years went by many of the harmonic changes which Parker introduced became respectable. It took time, but eventually it happened. In the playing of Zoot Sims may be discerned the process in completion. Sims plays harmonies pioneered by Parker, and integrates them into a general framework based on the methods of the Swing Age players. Zoot plays his minor sevenths and does his double tempo runs, but still manages to make the end product sound like a direct descendent of Lesterâs early work. Coltrane on the other hand, will have
none of that kind of formality, and goes further and further afield in the attempt to make himself sound fresh and strange to his own earsâwhich, by the way, is always impossible.
Today modernism faces both ways at once. At one extreme is the Basie band, still insisting on four to the bar, still punching out simple but impelling figures. At the other is the lunatic fringe, dispensing with harmony, with melody, even with rhythm, dressing the jazz up in all kinds of wordy nothings to justify the ugliness of the music being produced. It remains to be seen who is right. Perhaps everybody is right, but I think not.
I remember about ten years ago Basie was considered passÃ©. If you were a young musician who wanted to be socially acceptable to your avant garde fellows, you never mentioned Basieâs name in a serious discussion of contemporary values. After all, you didnât want to be thought square or anything like that.
There were other things also which were taboo. Certain tunes were regarded with contempt as jazz vehicles, particularly the bulk of the old standards, whose chords moved in the old cycle of resolving dominant seventh chords. You were not to mention Billie Holiday, whose best work was steeped in that kind of musical climate. If it wasnât post-Parker, then you were not to think about it. Lester Young was never mentioned, although strangely enough players like Getz were OK names, even though their styles had been directly inspired by Lester.
âBasie has done a great deal towards restoring sanity. He has pioneered a concept which was old when he started to pioneer it . . . that rhythmically jazz is a very simple affair . . . and that if you donât swing, you might as well pack up and become a dishwasher.â
I suppose in a way this kind of nonsense was necessary. In a violent revolution some innocent heads are bound to roll. But I always failed to see why the greatness of âParkerâs Moodâ could in any way invalidate the greatness of Lesterâs âTwelfth Street Ragâ. And then one day, in a provincial ballroom,
I came in from the coach to find several of my fellows huddled over a portable record player. They were listening to a new record which I later discovered to my astonishment to be called âBasie Dance Set Number Oneâ. I could not help smiling to myself.
I always like to think that something like a restoration of the balance began with that day, and that record. Certainly in the past few years there has been a tendency for modernism to become less embittered against the old days. Even here there is dishonesty, of course. People get all magnanimous about Hawkins and say he is just as good as he used to be, which of course he isnât, and nothing like it. But no matter. At least the Hawkins generation gets more work these days.
Basie has done a great deal towards restoring this sanity. He has pioneered a concept which was old when he started to pioneer it, a concept which insists that rhythmically jazz is a very simple affair, at least in theory, and that if you donât swing you might as well pack up and become a dishwasher. To somebody like myself, who looks on the experiments of the Ornette Colemans of the jazz world with contempt, Basie, with his oldtime skill, is much the lesser of the two evils.
There is another reason why the Basie band is vital in the education of every real musician. The days of the big jazz band are gone, at least for the present. Economics make it impossible to get a fifteen piece band on the road and keep it there. We are all therefore in danger of forgetting what a big band sounds like. Basie comes over once a year and offers a reminder. The section phrasing, the counterpoint between sections, above all the control of dynamics, cannot be
faulted, and that is why I feel that despite his five British tours, Basieâs usefulness to the British jazz scene is not done yet.
As each year goes by, tolerance in the modern jazz world increases. Recently Zoot Sims made an album called âDown Home,â in which all the songs belonged to the pre-war repertoire, from âBill Baileyâ to âI Cried For You.â And a
very good album it was too. Ten years ago in the London modern clubs, there were many musicans who would have shunned you like the plague had you expressed a desire to play âBill Bailey.â Today that kind of bigotry is all forgotten. If you want to you can even play âShow Me The Way to Go Home.â Of course, you have to call it âThe Preacher,â but whatâs in a name ?
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