Count Basie Orchestra
Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Mon 6 Nov; Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, Tue 7 Nov
Ken Ramage pulled off something of a coup when he secured an exclusive date for the Count Basie Orchestra at the Nairn Jazz Festival last year, but fans in the central belt now get their chance to catch up with one of the most famous groups in jazz. Happily, they won’t find a pallid ghost band turning out a pale imitation of the great years.
The Count is gone, but the band is in the sure hands of trombonist Bill Hughes, whose association with Basie began in 1953.
‘Basie called and I didn’t believe it was him! I told my wife, “somebody’s pulling my leg!” Wants me to join the Basie band! It turned out Frank Wess had recommended me. At the time I was more scared than thrilled!’
The current band is a tighter and more focused outfit than the one which played under saxophonist Frank Foster in Glasgow in 1992. The group has a classic big band sound and fine soloists, and is powered from the drum seat by another distinguished Basie veteran, the great Butch Miles.
Hughes draws on classic arrangers from the Basie canon, including the likes of Sammy Nestico, Ernie Wilkins, Neal Hefti, Frank Foster, Benny Carter and Freddie Green, alongside newer names like Bob Ojeda. He has succeeded in maintaining the classic Basie sound with just a touch of modernisation.
‘When I’m leading and conducting rehearsals, I’m trying to hear what Basie would have heard, and trying to figure out whether I should change something, because sometimes the way the music is written is not the way you want it to sound. Basie would take the arrangements and change them around to his way of playing them, and I think it’s important for the leader to inject something into it.’