Review: The Legendary Count Basie Orchestra

This big band has been in continuous existence (with the shortest of breaks in the early 1950s) for 82 years now. I attribute their longevity and continued popularity to the fact that they are “the band that plays the blues” as their motto goes. A certain bluesiness has never gone totally out of fashion, being an important part of jazz, rock and hip-hop. They were “rhythm and blues” long before that term existed, and still can’t be beat for rhythm or blues today.

Add to that the fact that they are one of the most musically virtuosic of the traditional big bands around! Their command of volume control, both loud and soft, is astonishing. There’s even a number in their current songlist at Birdland where they put this on gratuitous display. Bandleader Scotty Barnhart gave the signal to bring the volume down, again and again, until you think they couldn’t get any quieter, and then take it down some more. Astonishing.

You need a big brassy voice to sing over this band – of its 20+ pieces, over 90% are brass. Carmen Bradford certainly fits the the bill, belting “I Wish You Love” with more vigor and bluesiness than I’ve ever heard it done. Though Count Basie passed in 1983, his orchestra continues as dynamic and forceful as ever. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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