Count Basie Orchestra

Usually I can’t run fast enough from a “ghost band” trying to carry on the name of a departed swing-era bandleader: such groups almost always trade on nostalgia, replaying the old hits like a jukebox, with no real connection to the spirit of Glenn Miller, Stan Kenton, the Dorsey Brothers, or whoever. But this orchestra, the direct descendant of the one Count Basie led from 1935 until his death in ’84, is the sterling exception. This distinction stems in part from the way Basie ran the band while he was alive: Unlike Duke Ellington, he did little writing for his group, preferring to hire hot young arrangers like Quincy Jones, Thad Jones, and saxist Frank Foster. So while his leadership maintained the orchestra’s trademark combination of urbane sophistication and down-home soul, regular infusions of fresh material kept it from ossifying; and since the book kept evolving with little input from Basie himself, it’s no surprise that this process has continued even after his death. (Case in point: 11 of the 14 tracks on the band’s 1999 release, Swing Shift, are new compositions.) And more than almost any other bandleader, Basie nurtured soloists, encouraging and showcasing their individuality and instilling a concomitant loyalty: Foster returned to lead the band in the late 80s, and a decade later Grover Mitchell, who’d starred in the trombone section in the 60s and again in the 80s, came back to take over the job. In addition to writing or commissioning new charts, both men have made a point of unearthing gems from the band’s own repertoire, most dating from the 50s or earlier, that Basie himself had long ignored. All of this–as well as a sprinkling of players who actually served under Basie, including Mitchell on trombone, Bob Ojeda on trumpet, the delightful tenor soloist Kenny Hing, and drummer Butch Miles–helps the band balance its glorious past with a lively present. Cover for these shows is $40. Friday and Saturday, June 29 and 30, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, July 1, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.