Jazz at 100 Hour 13: Count Basie – Dueling Tenors and the Great American Rhythm Section

In the eleventh hour of Jazz at 100, we followed Count Basie through the Benny Moten Band in Kansas City and heard his first recordings as a leader. In 1937, after Benny Moten’s death, he took the nation by storm with his driving band lead by the “All American Rhythm Section” and the dual tenor saxophones of Herschel Evans and Lester Young.

We are joined in this hour by Robert Jospe – percussionist, composer, recording artist and member of the performance faculty at the McIntire Department of Music at the University of Virginia.

“I’ve always built my band from the rhythm section to the tenors, then on to the rest, for the living pulse of a band is naturally the rhythm section. The piano can create a mood but it can also join forces with the guitar, bass, and drums to become a power unit that drives and motivates the entire outfit. The result should be ‘solid’ but also flexible; there must be control that is not confined.” – Count Basie

Called the All-American Rhythm Section, “Basie’s rhythm section was his greatest innovation, the finest foundation of its kind. Leveling offbeat accents in favor of a resolute four/four, it floated the band. Nothing in music can quite match those moments in Basie’s ’30s recordings when Jo Jones tattoos the hi-hat and the other All-Americans go into action. By then, streamlining was evident in every aspect of the band.” – Gary Giddens

Tenor Hershel Evans.
“Basie was the first bandleader to popularize a reed section with two tenors. In Herschel Evans, he had one of the Southwest’s most distinctive respondents to Hawkins; his darkly romantic tone (“Blue and Sentimental”) and red-blooded authority (“Doggin’ Around,” “Every Tub”) complemented Lester Young’s insuperably logical flights.” – Gary Giddens

Blue And Sentimental. Count Basie & His Orchestra
(Harry “Sweets” Edison, Buck Clayton, Ed Lewis, Eddie Durham, Bennie Morton, Dan Minor, Earl Warren, Herschel Evans, Lester Young, Jack Washington, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones). 6/6/1938.
Doggin’ Around. Count Basie & His Orchestra
(Harry “Sweets” Edison, Buck Clayton, Ed Lewis-tp, Eddie Durham, Bennie Morton, Dan Minor-tb, Earl Warren-as, Herschel Evans, Lester Young-ts, Jack Washington-bs, Count Basie-p, Freddie Green-g, Walter Page-b, Jo Jones-d). 6/6/1938. (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
Every Tub. Count Basie & His Orchestra
(Harry “Sweets” Edison, Buck Clayton, Ed Lewis-tp, Eddie Durham, Bennie Morton, Dan Minor-tb, Earl Warren-as, Herschel Evans, Lester Young-ts, Jack Washington-bs, Count Basie-p, Freddie Green-g, Walter Page-b, Jo Jones-d, Jimmy Rushing-voc). 2/16/1938.

Tenors Herschel Evans and Lester Young.
Tenor player, Herschel “Evans mined the ground beat, [Lester] Young barely glanced at it. Heard back-to-back in such performances as “One O’Clock Jump” and “Georgiana” [Evans solos first on both tracks], they define the range of the tenor in that era—they are as distinct as if they were playing different instruments.” – Gary Giddens

One O’Clock Jump. Count Basie & His Orchestra
(Buck Clayton, Ed Lewis, Bobby Moore-tp, George Hunt, Dan Minor-tb, Earl Warren-as, Herschel Evans, Lester Young-ts, Jack Washington-bs, Count Basie-p, Freddie Green-g, Walter Page-b, Jo Jones-d). 7/7/1937. (The Norton Jazz Collection)
Georgianna. Count Basie & His Orchestra
(Buck Clayton, Ed Lewis, Karl George-tp, Bennie Morton, Dan Minor, Eddie Durham-tb, Earl Warren-as, Herschel Evans, Lester Young-ts, Jack Washington-bs, Count Basie-p, Freddie Green-g, Walter Page-b, Jo Jones-d, Jimmy Rushing-voc). 1/3/1938.

Trumpeter Buck Clayton.
“The trumpet section offered a similarly contrasting twosome… [Buck Clayton’s] warm and golden tone modulated Armstrong’s drama with a reticent lyricism that could be celebrational (“Jumpin’ at the Woodside”), playful (“Dickie’s Dream”), or inscrutable (“Good Morning Blues”).” – Gary Giddens

Jumpin’ At The Woodside. Count Basie & His Orchestra
(Harry “Sweets” Edison, Buck Clayton, Ed Lewis-tp, Dicky Wells, Bennie Morton, Dan Minor-tb, Earl Warren-as, Herschel Evans, Lester Young-ts, Jack Washington-bs, Count Basie-p, Freddie Green-g, Walter Page-b, Jo Jones-voc). 8/22/1938.
Dickie’s Dream. Count Basie’s Kansas City Seven
(Buck Clayton-tp, Dickie Wells-tb, Lester Young-ts, Count Basie-p, Freddie Green-g, Walter Page-b, Jo Jones-d). 9/5/1939.
Good Morning Blues. Count Basie & His Orchestra
(Buck Clayton, Ed Lewis, Bobby Moore, George Hunt, Dan Minor, Eddie Durham, Earl Warren, Herschel Evans, Lester Young, Jack Washington, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Jimmy Rushing). 8/9/1937.

Harry “Sweets” Edison.
“Clayton occasionally used a cup mute, but left most of the muted work to Harry Edison, whom Young nicknamed “Sweets” for the insinuatingly nasty tone he produced. Edison brought a crafty and even caustic wit to the band in elliptical solos played with a tight edgy timbre (“Blow Top,” “Jive at Five”). His twelve-year tenure began in 1938, and when he left, his grasp of obbligato and dynamics made him an ideal singers’ accompanist—Nelson Riddle used him whenever possible on sessions by Sinatra and Nat Cole.” – Gary Giddens

Blow Top. Count Basie and His Orchestra
(Harry “Sweets” Edison, Buck Clayton, Ed Lewis, Al Killian, Dickie Wells, Vic Dickenson, Dan Minor, Earl Warren, Tab Smith, Buddy Tate, Lester Young, Jack Washington, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones). 5/31/1940.
Jive At Five. Count Basie & His Orchestra
(Harry “Sweets” Edison, Buck Clayton, Ed Lewis, Shad Collins, Dickie Wells, Benny Morton, Dan Minor, Earl Warren, Lester Young, Chu Berry, Jack Washington, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones). 2/4/1939.

Lester Young.
Lester Young “… is invariably characterized as having a light, cool, gravity-free style, but he also introduced to jazz a carnal earthiness that prefigures modern notions of funkiness. With Basie, he mixes it up for the dancers and gets way down, mooing and honking.” – Gary Giddens

Taxi War Dance. Count Basie & His Orchestra
(Harry “Sweets” Edison, Buck Clayton, Shad Collins, Ed Lewis-tp, Dickie Wells, Benny Morton, Dan Minor-tb, Earl Warren-as, Buddy Tate, Lester Young-ts, Jack Washington-bs, Count Basie-p, Freddie Green-g, Walter Page-b, Jo Jones-d). 3/19/1939. (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
“It’s a head arrangement without a theme and everything about it is distinctive. Basie begins with four bars of boogie-woogie, extended another four bars with the addition of a band riff. Except for that riff, the first half of the record could be by a small ensemble—rhythm section plus two soloists. Young dances in with a fast paraphrase of the first four notes of “Old Man River,” which he repeats as a springboard into a bluesy melody of his own, more than compensating for the absence of a written theme. His chorus is a grid of contrary melodic fragments, each complete in itself and rhythmically invincible, that ultimately makes perfect sense… After a two-measure boogie-woogie transition, [trombonist] Dickie Wells also plays a full and trenchantly expressive chorus. Now the ensemble enters to kick off two choruses in which it plays no more than a four-measure (six-notes) call, eliciting four-measure responses from tenor saxophone, Buddy Tate in the first chorus and Young in the second … In each instance, Basie claims the bridge for the rhythm section. The piece ends with a round-robin of two-measure breaks by Basie, Young, bass, drums, and ensemble.” – Gary Giddens
Lester Leaps In. Count Basie’s Kansas City Seven
(Buck Clayton-tp, Dickie Wells-tb, Lester Young, Freddy Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones). 9/5/1939. (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
“A classic [small group] performance for Young and Basie with a more-than-able contribution by Clayton. The inspirational interplay of Basie’s piano accompaniment is almost the equal of Young’s inventive brilliance.” – Martin Williams from the notes to Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz
Tickle Toe. Count Basie and His Orchestra
(Harry “Sweets” Edison, Buck Clayton, Ed Lewis, Al Killian-tp, Dickie Wells, Vic Dickenson, Dan Minor-tb, Earl Warren-as, Buddy Tate, Lester Young-ts, Jack Washington-bs, Count Basie-p, Freddie Green-g, Walter Page-b, Jo Jones-d).  3/19/1940.

Jimmy Rushing.
Before joining the bands of Walter Page and the Benny Moten, Jimmy Rushing and Count Basie were scuffling on their own and “… together hit numerous small towns, playing buckets of blood on Saturday night and churches on Sunday morning … For nearly fifteen years, he remained Basie’s key singer, and just about every record they made together is classic—not only the lofty, often intensely poetic blues like ‘I Left My Baby’” – Gary Giddens.

I Left My Baby. Count Basie & His Orchestra
(Harry “Sweets” Edison, Buck Clayton, Shad Collins, Ed Lewis-tp, Dickie Wells, Benny Morton, Dan Minor-tb, Earl Warren-as, Buddy Tate, Lester Young-ts, Jack Washington-bs, Count Basie-p, Freddie Green-g, Walter Page-b, Jo Jones-d, Jimmy Rushing-voc). 11/6/1939. (The Jazz Singers)

“Perhaps the Basie ensemble lacked the arranging and composing genius of an Ellington, or the instrumental virtuosity of Goodman, but as a “blowing” band it was without peer.” – Ted Gioia

In the next hour we’ll hear from Duke Ellington in the 1930s, pioneering his extended works and introducing his great late 30s band with Ben Webster on tenor and Jimmy Blanton on bass, known as the Blanton Webster Band.

Recordings.
The Norton Jazz Recordings – 4 Compact Discs for use with JAZZ by Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddens. W.W. Norton 933796
The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. Columbia P6 11891
The Jazz Singers – A Smithsonian Collection. Sony Music RD 113
Count Basie Orchestra – The Original American Decca Recordings. MCA GRP 36112
Swing Time: Vol. 074, Lester Young Vol. 2 (1939-41). World’s Greatest Jazz Collection
Big Band: Vol. 045, Count Basie (1939-40). World’s Greatest Jazz Collection
Big Band: Vol. 046, Count Basie (1940). World’s Greatest Jazz Collection

Resources.
Kirchner, Bill (editor). 2000. The Oxford Companion To Jazz. New York, NY. The Oxford University Press.
“Lester Young” by Loren Schoenberg
Gelly, Dave. 2007. Being Prez: The Life and Music of Lester Young. London. Oxford University Press.
Giddens, Gary & DeVeaux, Scott. 2009. JAZZ. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Chapter 8. Count Basie and Duke Ellington
Giddins, Gary. Visions of Jazz: The First Century (p. 173). New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 19. Count Basie/Lester Young (Westward Ho! And Back)
Gioia, Ted. 2011. The History of Jazz. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 5. The Swing Era
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Count Basie – The Original American Decca Recordings
Ratliff, Ben. 2002. The New York Times Essential Library of Jazz. New York. Times Books.
Chapter 12. Count Basie, The Complete Decca Recordings (1937-1939)
Simon, George T. 1981. The Big Bands. New York. Schirmer Books.

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