Anthology, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, December 21-23. 619-595-0300. $21 to $63.
The trick of the jazz big-band ensemble is to sound as one, such that the individual instruments are indistinguishable. Not counting the soloists, the intention is for a giant, brassy, music-making machine. It is a powerful vibe, I know -- I played baritone sax in big-band jazz ensembles in high school and college. The format is fairly standard. Brass (trumpets and bones) make up the back wall of the band with percussion off to the sides -- bass and guitar, drums and piano. Reeds, meaning saxes, sit in front because of the lack of sound-carry in the construct of their instruments. Each section chairs a soloist (or two), and the rest of the players carry the sound, which is something on loan from another generation and influenced, to a large extent, by a pianist who went by the name of Count Basie.
When I think of Basie, the word "syncopation" comes to mind. William Basie learned stride piano from Fats Waller. In time he would morph that rolling, percussive sound into a distinctive vision that took almost two dozen musicians at a time to fully realize. Basie led his shows from behind the piano, answering his band's downbeats with loud, offbeat keyboard accents. It became a trademark sound, and he fronted it with the blues and jazz legends of the day -- names like Billy Holiday, Joe Williams, and, later, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.
Count Basie died in a Florida hospital in 1984, almost 50 years after forming his first group in 1935 from the leavings of Bennie Moton's big band. So, what's left of the Basie Orchestra today? After winning 16 Grammys, critics call him an institution, but his band has never really stopped performing. Under different leaders, the Basie legacy has survived the boneyard of big bands with a blend of wizened veterans and new, younger players. It's old music made fresh, and it rips -- just how the Count would have wanted it.
COUNT BASIE ORCHESTRA, Anthology, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, December 21-23. 619-595-0300. $21 to $63.