Showing Fools How It’s Done for 75 Years

Few things give me as much satisfaction as watching a consummate professional, in any field, at work.  Last Sunday night, I saw and heard a group of them–the 17-piece horn section, 4-piece rhythm section, vocalist, and conductor of the legendary Count Basie Orchestra.


I was expecting trombonist Bill Hughes to direct, but as it turns out, he retired last month. The band is now in the capable hands of Dennis Mackrel, one of the last members of the band to be hired by The Count himself.

I’d seen them play twice in college in the early ’90s.  The trumpet player in the pic above, Scotty Barnhart, was in the band back then, along with a few others.  If memory serves, he was the person who sold me the Live at El Morocco CD out of a duffle bag during an intermission.  See, I love that–even after 75 years, they’re still a working band.  Still on the hustle.  You can tell by the tour bus parked outside the theater.  The same kind of bus I used to ride on what were loosely called “gigs.”

My college flashbacks weren’t helped by the fact that I was also drinking cheap beer during the show.

The CBO in the vid below, directed by the equally legendary Frank Foster, was more or less the configuration that I saw in college.  My personal favorite song, “Corner Pocket” by Freddie Green and arranged by Ernie Wilkins, is at 2’40”.  I didn’t hear it on Sunday, which made me sad.  But the show still kicked ass. After 75 years and the inevitable personnel changes, the Count Basie Orchestra is still a group of what’s known in jazz circles as monsters and bad-ass motherfuckers.

Sort of makes me wonder if I can polish up the trumpet and revive my long-dead lead trumpet chops. I have to say, it’s been a long time since I’ve missed playing as badly as I did last night.

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