Tag Archives: Count Basie

45: “Thou Swell”/”Mad About the Boy” b/w “Gong Rock”/”Lope City” by Kai Winding and J.J. Johnson. Bethlehem Records. BEP-115. Recorded January 26th + 27th, 1955, in New York City.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

J.J. Johnson (not to be confused with MTV VJ J.J. Jackson) was born in Indianapolis in 1924. He learned to play piano at the age of nine, and then picked up the trombone at 14. By the age of 18 he was playing with Benny Carter’s band and by the age of 21 he was playing with Count Basie. So he knew how to play big band music, no problem. But what about the then-ascendant bebop school of jazz? In the mid-1940’s it was commonly thought there was no place for trombone in bebop, simply because the instrument lacked the keys that allowed trumpeters and saxophonist to be so nimble. Big notes on “Sing, Sing Sing!,” no problem. Trying to keep up with Charlie Parker on “Koko,” there’s a problem. But no less a bebop authority than Dizzy Gillespie heard Johnson’s playing and told him, “I’ve always known that the trombone could be played different, that somebody’d catch on one of these days. Man, you’re elected.”

Kai Winding was born in Aarhus Denmark in 1922. His family came to the United States when he was 12 years old and settled in New York City, where Kai attended Stuyvesant High School. He started playing trombone professionally as soon as he’d finished school but had to put it on hold to do his duty in the Coast Guard. After the war, Kai played with first Benny Goodman’s and then Stan Kenton’s orchestras. Clearly, he also knew how to play big band music.

Both trombonists were tapped to play on the sessions that would become Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool. The album was recorded over the course of three sessions in 1949 and 1950, and employed a nonet. A nine member band was clearly more ambitious than the quartets that typified bebop, but this was an ambitious group, sprung from the musical discussions at salons hosted by Gil Evans. Those discussions would eventually lead to the creation of cool jazz, a sound that would come to be more associated with West Coast artists like Chet Baker. Kai played on the four songs from the first session—here he is with “Godchild.” Note the tasteful solo at the 2:35 mark.

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78: “Gone With “What” Wind” b/w “Blow Top” by Count Basie and His Orchestra. Okeh 5629. Recorded in New York City, 05/31/40.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Born in Red Bank, New Jersey in 1904, William “Count” Basie was raised by a musical family—his father played the mellophone and his mother the piano; she taught him how to play. Reportedly, the teenaged Basie preferred playing drums to piano, but meeting musicians like fellow Red Banker Sonny Greer, who played drums with Duke Ellington’s band, made him reconsider his musical focus. Playing piano locally lead to gigs in Harlem, and soon enough Basie was on the road with bands like Katie Krippen and Her Kiddies and Walter Page and His Blue Devils, playing in jazz hotbeds like Chicago and Kansas City.

By 1937 Basie had his own group and had returned to the east coast, settling in Woodside, Queens and soon enough playing the Roseland in Manhattan. With advice and encouragement from producer John Hammond, Basie and his Orchestrawent from being a strong road act to an orchestra that was good enough for the most critical New York audiences. In 1938, they participated in a Battle of the Bands at the Savoy against Chick Webb’s orchestra. Each band had a promising young singer—Webb had Ella Fitzgerald, and Basie had Billie Holiday.

According to Metronome magazine, Basie’s band was the victor:

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