Bill (Count) Basie first shows up on record at the end of the 1920s, playing piano with Bennie Moten & the Kansas City Orchestra. Legend has it that Basie became a "Count" after Moten teasingly referred to him as "that no-account Basie." Classics No. 503 presents Basie's first recordings as a leader. On October 9th, 1936, a five-piece band cut two instrumental stomps and a pair of blues with vocals by Jimmy Rushing. Since Basie was breaking a contract by recording for the Vocalion label, the band was billed as "Jones-Smith, Inc." The "Jones" was drummer Jo Jones, and the "Smith" was trumpeter Carl Smith, filling in that day for Buck Clayton, who had a split lip. Basie opened up "Shoe Shine Boy" with a bit of his own brand of Harlem stride piano, powerfully supported by Walter Page's bass fiddle. Lester Young, shining like the rising sun, was making his very first appearance on phonograph record. Strong as nails, full of ideas and rhythmic enthusiasm, Young was obviously happy to be cooking in front of the microphone that day. On the 21st of January, 1937 the Count Basie Orchestra became a phonographic reality, utilizing former members of Walter Page's Blue Devils and Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra. Basie honored his Harlem roots by dishing up a smart instrumental treatment of Fats Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose," and a stomp dedicated to Waller's preferred cathouse, the Daisy Chain. "Roseland Shuffle" is remarkable for the extended "conversation" between Lester Young's sax and Basie's piano. Jimmy Rushing is often narrowly categorized as a blues singer rather than a versatile jazz vocalist who could sing anything, including the blues, with extraordinary passion. Rushing had developed himself as a singer of pop songs with Moten, so it's not surprising that he does so well with "Pennies From Heaven." Rushing often made it seem as though he himself had written the songs he sang. He did all he could with "Boo Hoo," a cutesy Guy Lombardo hit made into a smoking instrumental in 1937 by Fats Waller His Rhythm & His Orchestra. Waller sang on his own version of "Smarty," while Basie was wise enough to keep it instrumental. This left more room for a solo by Herschel Evans, who shared clarinet and tenor sax responsibilities with Lester Young. The March 26, 1937 version of "Boogie Woogie" is a big band expansion of the blues shuffle recorded with the small group five months earlier, and the effect is anything but redundant. What an amazing band! "One O'Clock Jump" made its very first appearance in July of '37, featuring Lester Young in all his glory. Compare his solo with that of Herschel Evans' on "John's Idea" and you'll be savoring one of the greatest tenor sax dichotomies in the history of big band jazz. Evans sounds like Coleman Hawkins or Chu Berry. Young sounds like Young and nobody else. In just a few years, half the tenors in the world would be trying to sound exactly like him. 1937 and '38 were wonderful years for this group of musicians. Things evolved steadily. New energies gradually began to pervade the ensemble: Earle Warren, Freddie Green, Eddie Durham, Benny Morton. Each man brought his personality along with his chops. The future looked, and was, very bright for Basie's Orchestra. What a treat to catch this wonderful band as it perpetually reinvented itself for all to hear.
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