Count Basie Paints A Picture Of The Birth Of The Blues

swcountgfs-lil.jpg It's strange how simple, off-the-cuff stuff can be so beautiful, it makes you cry.

Here's Count Basie on the Jazz Casual TV program from 1968. Basie paints a picture of Kansas City and Harlem in the golden age, then dispels it with a laugh like the smoke from his cigarette. "So, uh... Where were we?"

I live for glimpses like this of the wonderful times before I was born.
"That's The Lion's ending..."


  1. I like early Count Basie, before he sold out and started playing music for Frank Sinatra and the like. I understand why the reasoning why he decided to go against the fad of playing fast complicated jazz/blues music on the piano and instead playing simple yet catchy tunes… but like i said, i do prefer his earlier stuff when he was playing fast.

    1. Anonymous #1: Huh? First, as for the implication that he “sold out” and stuck with simplicity–you don’t understand Basie. It was “simple” because he wasn’t afraid to leave space–a nearly lost art in the jazz world. Second, to charge that he eschewed “fast and complex” music after he “sold out,” have you ever heard (or played,as I have) “Wind Machine,” a Sammy Nestico chart from the 1970s:

      Compare the simplicity of his intro with the rollicking chart that follows. Brilliant!

      Thanks for the great clip–I, too, love these glimpses back in time!

    2. Anon
      With all due respect!
      I take strong exception to your insult of Count Basie.
      Count Basie never sold out.What does that mean anyway?The Count Basie Orchestra has an extensive library of music over now 75 years.Hundreds of arrangements of fast/slow/medium
      Also,if you don’t like the music he recorded with Frank Sinatra.Don’t listen to it. It is a matter of taste and if you ever hear the Orchestra live ..You would KNOW,because right now ,YOU DON’T, that you can’t play one way all the time ,fast or slow,Blues,ballads or whatever a mixture of tempos/songs etc in music performance is what you will find
      Go to for the schedule
      James Leary
      Bassist, Count Basie Orchestra

  2. (@Stephen — I’m editing this post for you to fix a formatting problem, don’t re-save. Thanks. – XJ)

  3. …Back in 1982, a small group of college buddies including myself met a certain famous blues guitarist who, when asked by someone in our group who was a refugee from Iran to explain what the Blues were, said guitar legend gave the following response:

    “The Blues is black folks making money off of reminding White folks how bad their lives are.”

    Needless to say, we were laughing about that for the rest of the night…

  4. Have you ever seen a Great Day In Harlem? It’s a documentary about a photograph taken in 1958 of about 60 jazz greats taken by a novice photographer on one of his first assignments. What an assignment, and what a collection of anecdotes. “You know, not all of these guys knew that there was another 10 o’clock, the one in the morning.”

  5. I just want to remind that there are clips of Fats Waller around, and there is no one finer. This man could easily span a twelfth, and his keyboard playing was phenomenal. There are many songs worth seeking out, but my favorite is ‘I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby’.
    Unfortunately there is no video I can link to for that song other than pale imitations by lesser bands, but here are a few others:

  6. Oh, god, that was wonderful, it made my day. Thank you for posting.

    Watching this, I’m reminded that despite our impression of the great jazz musicians as unassailably cool, what they really were, were the music nerds of their day. Which in turn is probably a good lesson about the relationship between “cool” and “nerd” over time.

    It just kills me that jazz has passed as a popular form. It’s so, so great.

  7. Anyone who performs music for a living has made some compromises. I’m sure working with Sinatra was among the least of Count Basie’s compromises.

    Frank Sinatra was a genuine artist and when two genuine artists can get together that’s a promising thing, Anon #1.

    It’s great that old video programs like this are preserved. I’m sure many more are lost.

  8. What a treat. Basie was a class act and his small combo sessions are art. I used the same clip as a “cool school” example a few weeks ago on my FB page, so great minds…

    Dan Patterson

  9. Outstanding. I love listening to studio sessions with such greats, and I like them even more when we get to hear the snippets of creative collaboration amongst the artists who are present. Verve reissue of “Gerry Mulligan meets Ben Webster”? I’m talking about you, buddy.

  10. freaking fantastic. I’ve got an old vhs somewhere with Basie duetting with Oscar Peterson. So few notes but everyone hand picked and just right.

  11. My God. This makes my heart stop. My dad, who died last year, liked Count Basie but, like Basie, he revered Pete Johnson and Fats Waller. I wish he was here to share this.

    My dad also played with Pete Johnson and, god love the Internet, it’s available on iTunes.

    If you click on the link that’s my dad behind Pete, in the glasses; my dad’s best friend, Charlie Castner, is on the right.

  12. Count Basie made about five albums with Oscar Peterson and each of them is very, very good. The Count was a fine pianist and is not well enough known for his work on the keys as opposed to his work as a band leader. Good stuff.

    Did Count Basie sell out when he and the band appeared in “Blazing Saddles”?

  13. I’ll add my thanks too – truly wonderful. That really put a warm smile on my face.

    I got into enjoying jazz backwards (via fusion) and am more and more impressed the farther back I go. Now one of my sons has gotten the bug and has become a big fan – though he still loves his Pantera and other metal.

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