Jazz snobs and jazz purists refuse to admit it, but the fact is that jazz was once part of pop culture. Back in the late '30s, swing wasn't regarded as ultra-intellectual, complicated, inaccessible music for the select few: It reached the masses, and it heated up the juke boxes, neighborhood bars, house parties, and high school dances that would subsequently be dominated by rock or R&B. Count Basie was an artist, but he was also an entertainer, and much like Earth, Wind & Fire in the 1970s or Prince in the 1980s, he provided music that had a brain as well as a beat. Spanning 1937-1939, this superb collection takes you back to a time when Basie's big band was on the cutting edge of African-American music. This 24-song CD, which Nimbus released in 2000, isn't the last word on Basie in the late '30s; some essential favorites from that period are missing, including "Going to Chicago Blues" and "How Long Blues." But the material that Nimbus does provide is excellent; definitive recordings of "One O'Clock Jump," "Jumpin' at the Woodside," "Swinging the Blues," and "Oh, Lady Be Good" are an essential part of any swing collection. Five-star soloists like trumpeters Buck Clayton and Harry "Sweets" Edison and tenor saxophonist Lester Young are employed, and singer Jimmy Rushing (a seminal blues shouter who influenced everyone from Joe Williams to King Pleasure and Eddie Jefferson) is featured on about half of the selections (including "Sent for You Yesterday," "Good Morning, Blues," "The Blues I Like to Hear," and "I Keep Remembering"). Again, Swing Legends: 24 Classic Hits doesn't contain all of Basie's essential recordings of the late '30s, but it's definitely among the collections of swing-era Basie that's well worth obtaining.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson