Basie Band Swagger: History from the Source - Frank Wess

The New Testament Basie Band had "swagger'.   They had a walk, and the talk,  they had the groove of life. They knew they could play, and were at the top of the heap.  And the man who guided that and bred it into a family was Mr. William Basie himself.

They had "swagger".  That little extra bounce in their step. They were confident. You've seen it, the way Freddie Hubbard walks up to the mic, the way he holds his horn, he got SWAGGER.  The Basie guys were cocky even, and ready to prove it.  Frank Wess told me they played about 300 dates a year, and that the band I was in would never be able to come close to playing the way they did.  I remember calling him on the phone, and asking about a particular flute solo he played and the year and the band which led to the whole conversation about the early 60s band.

It all came from the organic experience of doing it all the time, night after night, riding the bus together, gambling together, drinking, finding girls together,  getting paid, being serious pros.  High level, and motivated practice but most importantly for the performance, and he said after playing together every day like that they all knew each other, the sounds, the notes and their lives. This period of JAZZ MUSIC WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN. When you watch Lockjaw you see SWAGGER and the look that says, 'I know I'm bad.'

But not arrogance, but AUTHORITY.  They earned this and it took a lot of work.  The Basie Band didn't play the music like it was on the paper, the interpreted it, and made it their own.  They owned that music.  During these years, Sonny Stitt, Johnny Griffin, Monk, Bud Powell, Sonny Rollins or Miles or Trane might show up at the gig, so there was no need for arrogance.  

Bill Hughes told me they were stars! That is the other difference CONFIDENCE.  And Mr. Basie ran a tight ship, stage presence, business, no drinking on stage, no talking etc. Classic African -American disciplined Jazz.  

The Count Basie Orchestra showed it's swagger every night, it was a lifestyle, it was life on the bus, Bill told me that they knew each other so well musically and personally, we played like one.  And he said "when we played a note, we each put a little something "extra" on it.  That was our secret.  The music was just a guide for what we were going to do with it."

The Count Basie Orchestra, a monumental institution of Jazz.

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