The third set in a Carnegie Hall program entitled "52nd Street Revisited" was a tribute to the Count Basie band and its extended engagement (July to October, 1938) at the Famous Door, a favorite after-hours haunt of Swing-era musicians. As the late jazz historian Frank Driggs said of that early Basie band which had just arrived in New York from their home base in Kansas City: "They swung harder and looser at the same time, than any of the Eastern bands, and had at least three superlative soloists in Lester Young, Buck Clayton and Herschel Evans. It was the first time in jazz that two outstanding tenor men were present and featured in one band." Augmented by such new talents as trombonists Dicky Wells and Benny Morton, trumpeter Harry Edison, lead alto saxophonist Earle Warren, bassist Walter Page and rhythm guitarist Freddie Green, this edition of the Count Basie Orchestra soon took New York by storm. And as emcee and noted music writer Arnold Shaw points out to the Carnegie Hall audience, the band could hardly fit on the small stage at the Famous Door and some patrons, feeling crowded and overwhelmed by the big band in that claustrophobic setting, would listen to the music from the street, just outside the club. Nevertheless, the sets from the Famous Door were broadcast on the radio by the CBS network, which led in no small part to the beginning of national recognition for the Basie band.
While Basie himself was not on hand for this May 25, 1974 celebration of his own legacy (Marty Napoleon filled in on piano), the authentic, swinging spirit of that early Basie band during those times was carried on by key alumni such as drummer Jo Jones (part of the fabled "All-American rhythm section" from Basie's classic band of the late '30s), alto saxophonist and vocalist Earle Warren, tenor saxophonist Budd Johnson, trombonists Vic Dickenson and George Matthews, baritone saxophonist Charlie Fowlkes and bassist Eddie Jones.
They kick off this Carnegie set with a Basie signature piece, "Jumping at the Woodside," named for the hotel where the band was based and where it also rehearsed when it first hit New York City. This driving number, fueled by swinging rhythm section and sparked by the shout choruses from the horn section, includes a series of strong solo contributions from tenor saxophonists Harold Ashby, Budd Johnson and Norris Turney as well as from trumpeter Money Johnson and trombonist Vic Dickenson, leading to a dynamic drum crescendo from Papa Jo Jones. Herschel Evans' beautiful ballad "Blue and Sentimental" is a feature for some emotive playing by tenor man Ashby, then the band jumps through a spirited rendition of Henry Woode's upbeat standard, "Broadway," which features outstanding solos from tenor saxophonist Budd Johnson, trombonist Quentin "Butterball" Jackson and trumpeter Taft Jordan. Pianist Napoleon also gets in some Basie-esque plinking on his economical solo here while bassist Jones walks emphatically behind him with guitarist Wayne Wright chunking way in classic Freddie Green fashion.
Earle Warren steps forward to sing "I Want a Little Girl (To Fall in Love with Me)," a lush vehicle for Jimmy Rushing in the late-'30s Basie band. Doc Cheatham is also featured playing some lyrical and lovely trumpet upfront on this bluesy lament. Next up is a letter-perfect reading of the infectiously swinging "Doggin' Around," a popular hit in the '30s penned by Texas tenor Herschel Evans; Jo Jones is prominently featured with an explosive solo near the end of this jumping number. These ebullient Basie-ites close out this "52nd Street Revisited" show with an energized rendition of another Basie staple, "One O'Clock Jump." This quintessential swinger features a few solo choruses from trombonist George Matthews, who played with the Chick Webb Orchestra at the Savoy Ballroom before joining the Basie organization, as well as some sparkling solos from pianist Napoleon, deep-toned tenor man Ashby and high-note trumpet specialist Lew Soloff, formerly of the band Blood, Sweat & Tears. It's a fitting way to conclude this show honoring "the swingingest band in the land."
-Written by Bill Milkowski