Sunday, July 22, 2012

Basie: Big Band Leader

Basically, if you love Basie or the Kansas City sound (mainly blues in a big band format), then Basie: Big Band Leader is an absolute bargain.

I personally believe that this set is essential because it features not only Papa Jo Jones, but also the great Shadow Wilson.

Most inexpensive box sets have some gems and a lot of fluff. This one is an exception - it's mostly gems. If you are a Basie fan, then you will probably appreciate the fact that the discs represent the Basie band's golden era from 1939 through 1950. If you are new to Basie, this is a good starting point.

I will say that audiophiles will probably complain about the sound quality. It's not atrocious, but it's not spectacular either. I ripped all of my discs into MP3 files and transferred them to my Droid phone, which is also my music player. This further diminished the sound quality, but I find it more than acceptable.

As a drummer the main drawing point for me was the large body or recorded work that featured the legendary All American Rhythm Section consisting of Basie on piano, Freddy Green on guitar, Walter Page on bass and Papa Jo Jones on drums. This is truly a study in what a rhythm section can do when it is comprised of master musicians who listen to each other and understand the music.

An added bonus, as previously stated, is Shadow Wilson who replaced Papa Jo Jones when he went into the army. Wilson is not well remembered today, but to those of us who live, eat and breathe jazz, he is an icon and worth studying.

One example of why Wilson is so important is amply demonstrated on his two bar break on Queer Street on disc 7, track 9. Bert Korall rightfully singled that out in his book titled Drummin' Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz The Bebop Years as a masterpiece. I agree.

But the music in this set is not all about drums and rhythm sections. Consider that the Basie band was blessed with Lester Young on tenor sax (my true music idol), Buddy Tate, Harry 'Sweets' Edison, Buck Clayton and a plethora of other musicians who truly left their marks in music. Lest I forget, some of his top vocalists are also represented in this set, including Helen Humes and Jimmy Rushing.

Besides the obvious - picking up techniques and riffs from Papa Jo Jones and Shadow Wilson - this is also music that you can sit back and enjoy. There is a time to analyze and a time to just bask in the music. This set allows both.

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