AMERICA'S ALL-TIME GREATEST PRESIDENT CHAPTER #1

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It’s high time I started “musing” on my favourite jazz musician of all time, the Pres. (Yes, I admit I would have to give him precedence even over my wee Scottish guru and muse Bobby Wellins, of whom much more anon.)

Let’s start by knocking ourselves out with the very first surviving live performances of the Count Basie band including Lester.

There had of course been the legendary Jones-Smith Incorporated recordings in a Chicago studio on November 9th 1936 of four titles by a quintet plus vocalist Jimmy Rushing on two of them.

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 Then the full big band made a studio recording of four sides for Decca in New York on January 21st 1937.

 And then…………………………………………

the thirteen-piece Count Basie orchestra opened on Monday February 8th 1937 a three-week residency at the Chatterbox room in the William Penn hotel, Pittsburgh. Live broadcasts of one of their sets were transmitted over the radio at 12.35am on Wednesday 10th, 1.00am on Friday 12th and 12.30am on Wednesday 24th. And someone somewhere, bless them, managed to make a recording from their wireless set of some of the broadcast material.

 [It is interesting to note that the great rhythm guitarist Freddie Green had not yet taken up his permanent and hallowed place with Basie. The guitarist in early 1937 was Claude Williams, who also played violin. Also, Basie had not yet developed his own pad and was using arrangements borrowed from Fletcher Henderson – this gives the ensemble passages a unique feel.]

The sound is obviously not great but the band is so on fire that you’re drawn in to listen anyway.

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There’s an lp/cd called The Count at the Chatterbox which contains most of the surviving music. There are however some gems among the unreleased fragments which I have gradually managed to obtain……………

I have chosen and put up on the “music page” a few choice examples on which you can hear the 26-year old Lester Young in his prime: Fletcher Henderson arrangements of St.Louis blues, Roseland shuffle (which is just another title for Shoe shine swing) and Tattersfield stomp (which on this private copy runs at the correct pitch).

However, “less is more”, as they say, and I have added some sparkling little gems. The band was using a chorus or so of the swinging 32-bar Moten swing with which to fade the broadcasts in and out and Lester was given solo space for most of these sign-ons and sign-offs. Although part of his fabulous improvisation is frustratingly talked over by the radio announcer in each case, it is possible (I have perfected the technique) of mentally editing out the patter and listening exclusively to the saxophone. I offer you on the “music”page no less than four fragments of Moten swing, two of which have never been released.

So here is the Pres in all his early glory. Enjoy – and I envy you if you are hearing this stuff for the first time!

 

 

 

Spike Wells