Playing with The Count Basie Orchestra has been a dream come true. I was first asked to be a sub in the Basie band by the great Frank Foster in 1994 filling in for Kenny Hing on the first tenor chair. I will never forget the thrill I had on that first gig, sitting in the chair, looking over the music! Frank never had a setlist he called tunes on stage, we had the full book back then, parts with Lockjaw written on the top. Frank called the first tune, Corner Pocket, as he did, he looked at me and said “Mac, you have the second solo.”, and he stomped off the tune! I looked over a Manny Boyd and said, ‘what?’ He said, ‘you’ll be alright!’
I subbed in the band two more times in the next couple of years, on second tenor and then for 3 months on second alto while Danny Turner was ill in 1995. Those tours changed my playing and my concept of music, and over the next years, I focused on the essence of the music. In the fall of 2001 Grover Mitchell, who was leader of the band since 1995, called me and said I’d like you to make this next tour on second alto.
Since that time I’ve been with the band full time for 15 years, and it has been the thrill of a lifetime. When I joined the band, Butch Miles was on drums, James Leary was on bass, Kenny Hing was playing lead tenor, Jackie Kelso playing lead alto, 40 year veteran John Williams was on baritone.
The band’s melody, dance and blues have made the Basie band one of the most popular bands of jazz history, Mr. Basie always wanted the audience to feel like they came to a party, and the band maintains that joy today.