At a running time of over five hours, the four-CD set,
“Count Basie: The Golden Years” is a real treasure.
Aptly titled, this set contained tracks recorded between 1972
and 1983, the year before Basie’s death. Apart from the
generous length of each disc, the set is also special, due
to the range of music on display; particularly, the variety
of instrumental configurations. Not surprisingly, the list
of Jazz “greats” contained herein is also impressive.
I mentioned the instrumental configurations, because
the performing forces ranged from three players
(i.e., pianist Basie, bassist Ray Brown [1926-2002] and
drummer Louie Bellson [1924-2009]) to more than 19
musicians, who participated in some of the Big Band
lineups. In between these extremes are various groups
that contain from four to eight players. The one
constant in the set was Basie on the piano, and with the
wide variety of instrumental settings featured herein,
I received a fairly complete picture of Basie’s underrated
skills. Oscar Peterson (1925-2007) also joined him for
a couple of small group sessions, during which Basie
played the organ!
The four discs are entitled, “Live,” “Small Groups,”
“Big Band,” and “Vocalists,” thereby illustrating Basie’s
range and flexibility as a player and bandleader. His ability
to “swing” is on ample display throughout this set.
The sessions are taken from various albums on the
Pablo label, which have been superbly mixed and
recorded by a legion of engineers, listed on the first
page of the accompanying booklet. Some of the
players in these sessions originally produced by Norman
Granz include Zoot Sims (1925-1985), Joe Pass
(1929-1994), Harry “Sweets” Edison (1915-1999),
Clark Terry (1920 – ), Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis
(1922-1986), J.J. Johnson (1924-2001), Curtis Fuller
(1934 – ), and many other greats!
The vocalists on Disc Four include Ella Fitzgerald
(1917-1996) and Sarah Vaughan (1924-1990), but
are predominantly of the Blues “shouter” variety.
Joe Turner (1911-1985) was on the lion’s share of
the tracks; however, Eddie Vinson (1917-1988) sang
and played alto saxophone as well, and singer Bill Caffey
was also featured. Hearing his group perform so
brilliantly in a supporting capacity is a testament to
Basie’s greatness as a bandleader.
This 1996 release was compiled and produced by
Eric Miller, and the accompanying booklet also contains
an informative essay by Bennie Green. In short,
I highly recommend this set, which provides an audio
snapshot of Count Basie’s final years as a recording
artist, during which he and his fellow musicians still
appear to be at the height of their powers!