DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Count Basie – Swingin’ the Blues (2010)

The jump king of swing.

Published on April 19, 2010

Count Basie – Swingin’ the Blues (2010)

Count Basie – Swingin’ the Blues (2010)

Masters of American Music series
Studio: EuroArts 2057148 (Distrib. by Naxos) [3/30/10]
Video: 4:3 B&W and color
Audio: English PCM mono
Subtitles: German, French
Length: 56 minutes  
Rating: ****

(Featuring interviews with Harry “Sweets Edison, Illinois Jacquet, Jay McShann, Buddy Tate, Earle Warren, Claude Williams, Joe Williams, and Albert Murray – Filmed performances by Count Basie Orchestra, Jimmy Rushing, Lester Young, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, and many others)

Count Basie was both the master of minimalism, as well as the king of swing. Basie was perhaps the most economical piano player that ever led a big band. He would play an opening series of single notes, setting the stage for his bands to introduce the theme and then take off with the most swinging of jump, swing, and blues numbers. Basie used space like an abstract painter would use splashes of color. He had no need to dazzle because his roster of all stars ranging from Hershel Evans, Lester Young, & Sweets Edison in the 30s up to his comeback band of the 50s thru 60s with Frank Foster, Frank Wess, Thad Jones, Al Grey and a myriad of others took charge, setting the standard for a swinging band.

Basie did not have to rely on his horns since he had the premiere rhythm section in the business with bassist Walter Page, guitarist Freddie Green, and the incomparable Jo Jones on drums. His choice of vocalists over the years ranged from early Billie Holiday to the two greatest blues-based male jazz singers, namely Jimmy Rushing and Big Joe Williams.

From the award winning television series, Masters of American Music, the Basie DVD, Swingin’ the Blues, crams 56 minutes with interviews with Basie band members along with Basie alone that are culled from documentaries and television shows (i.e. Ralph J. Gleason’s). Basie’s men clearly loved the man, as they universally praise the “family” atmosphere that he set and the patience he had to find just the right tempo for his book of charts. Film performances of Basie’s band from the 1930s up to the 1970s are included, and though we don’t have time to hear full tracks, we are given a few minutes of solos from many of the greatest stars over the decades.

Narrated by the sonorous voice of actor Roscoe Lee Browne and with the addition of Basie scholar Albert Murray, this DVD manages in under an hour to cover Basie’s career from the 1930s in Kansas City all the up to his death in 1984. Digitally remastered and with more than passable mono sound, this is a superb opportunity to experience the evolution of the band leader that earned the moniker of the Jump King of Swing. No jazz orchestra swung harder than the Count Basie band.

- Jeff Krow




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