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Artist Feature

Count Basie Orchestra

Even while the Count Basie Orchestra was in the studio finishing work on its Tony Bennett album, A Swinging Christmas, the ensemble’s new album was already taking shape: a salute to such jazz titans as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Freddie Hubbard and John Coltrane, in addition to such living legends as Bennett, Quincy Jones, Hank Jones, Frank Wess, Jon Hendricks, Curtis Fuller, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and others. Mack Avenue Records presents Swinging, Singing, Playing: The Count Basie Orchestra Salutes the Jazz Masters featuring top-drawer performances by the big band and its all-star guest list that includes Jones, Wess, Hendricks, Fuller, Geri Allen, Nnenna Freelon, Janis Siegel, Butch Miles, Rufus Reid and, in a nod to the younger generation that embraces Basie music, sparkplug singer/pianist Jamie Cullum. 

Produced by Mack Avenue’s executive vice president of A&R Al Pryor and CBO producer / conductor of special projects Dennis Wilson, Swinging, Singing, Playing achieves just what the CD title boasts: a swinging good time of extraordinary blues-fueled performances that hail various jazz legends. “There was so much flat-out love when we recorded the album,” says Wilson, who served with the Basie band from 1977 to 1987, including seven years with the Count at the helm. “When we finished laying down each track there was so much huggin’ and kissin.’ It was like when Ella Fitzgerald used to tour with us. At the end, she gave us all presents. That’s what it felt like–good feelings all around.”

An associate professor at the University of Michigan and the executive director of the school’s jazz festival, Wilson set his goal to bring on board a variety of artists who had some connection to the Basie legacy and to pay tribute to jazz masters, past and present. He arranged tunes from the orchestra’s library as well as brought to the session four originals, including the fleeting uptempo number, “Giant Blues Flag Waver,” with Allen blazing on the piano and CBO members tenor saxophonist Doug Lawrence and drummer Marion Felder soloing. In the liner notes Wilson writes, “This is one of two songs that have a harmonic quote from the music of John Coltrane. This song is [also] a salute to piano jazz masters Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock.” 

Wilson also contributes “Naiomi’s Blues,” a bluesy tune written for his daughter and dedicated to Basie, and the balladic “Dark Morning,” written on the morning that Basie died in 1984 and played as a tribute to Hubbard. The final Wilson offering is the endsong of the show, “Blues on Mack Avenue.” It features the composer on pixie-muted trombone, Fuller on trombone, Hendricks on vocals and Cullum on piano. Wilson notes that the tune is the final movement of the three-movement work he wrote, Count Basie Midwest Suite, and that Fuller was the trombonist he replaced when he joined the Basie band.