Basie Swings The Blues is the realization of Scotty Barnhart’s quest that started in 2019. Barnhart, a two-time Grammy award winning trumpeter, has been a featured soloist for the Count Basie Orchestra for 30 years and its orchestra director for the last decade. Founding Father, William ‘Count’ Basie came up during the vaudeville and big band era of the 20s, 3’s and 40s. He became the master of the big-band style of swing and the first African American male to win a Grammy in 1958. His Count Basie Orchestra established swing as the dominant music style of the day and had several hits through that time. Known for its soloists, rhythm section and layering jazz with blues into their signature brand of swing, by the 60s and 70s they were collaborating with preeminent artists of the time like Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Jackie Wilson, Dizzy Gillespie, and Oscar Peterson. Basie and his band would collect a total of nine Grammys over his lifetime.
As Barnhart discloses in the album’s producer notes, he was giving a thank you speech to The Blues Foundation for inducting Count Basie into their Blues Hall of Fame. “This recording is a result of an idea that came to me that night as I sat next to blues legend Bobby Rush”. “I knew The Count Basie Orchestra’s next recording should be one that had at its root, the sound of the Delta Blues”. “The Count Basie Orchestra is a blues-based orchestra and everything that it has ever played or will ever play has that particular inflection in it. It’s a blues that makes you want to dance, snap your fingers, tap your toes, and feel good. Mr. Basie said, “our blues will make your blues go away”.”
Bringing this idea to life within the context of the Orchestra was a concept Scotty had for a sound that didn’t materialize until a random event that occurred in March of 2020. As Covid shutdowns hit full force a makeshift version of the band went forward with a commitment to play at a wedding reception. After the formal dances, the groom approached the band to sit in with them on his guitar. Scotty cautiously accepted. “I called the key of G to the guys and counted off a medium tempo blues and what happened over the next few minutes was one of the most incredible things I had ever heard in my life. The groom played the living heck out of the blues on his guitar and sounded like all of the great blues guitarists rolled into one. With the saxes, trombones, and trumpets improvising riffs behind him, that was the moment when I finally heard what our recording should sound like. It was electrifying!”
Artists have performed with symphony orchestras in the past. Basie Swings The Blues is a completely different beast with a big-band jazz foundation, framed with swing, and topped off with a blues emphasis. Intrigued yet? If not, check out the artists lending their talents to this first of its kind release: Buddy Guy, Bobby Rush, Keb’ Mo’, Robert Cray, George Benson, Shemekia Copeland, Ledisi, Castro “Mr. Sipp” Coleman, Lauren Mitchell, Bettye LaVette, and Charlie Musselwhite.
This would certainly be an amazing lineup in any festival setting!
Mr. Sipp starts the album off on the opening track “Let’s Have a Good Time” which he composed and accentuates with his vocals and classic blues guitar work. It’s a lively track that’s true to its title. Sipp also appears later in the album on “Dirty Mississippi Blues”. At 89, elder statesman Bobby Rush was born the year Basie turned 30. Rush’s signature vocals and harmonica keep the toes tapping on the 2nd track “Boogie in the Dark”.
Shemekia Copeland, Buddy Guy, and Charlie Musselwhite collaborate on an amazing version of “I’m A Woman” by Koko Taylor. This award-winning trio powers this first single released from the album and arguably its best piece. We’re slowly getting our hips loose as we move into “Down Home Blues” featuring a Lauren Mitchell duet with bluesman Keb’ Mo’. The pace picks up next with the instrumental and Barnhart composition, “The Patton Basie” led by former Basie Orchestra member and guitar master Charlton Johnson. Another alumnus, Carmen Bradford brings her jazz vocal mastery to “Just For A Thrill”.
T-Bone Walker’s classic “Stormy Monday” swings the listening experience onward with a memorable adaptation by Betty LaVette. Blues Hall of Fame inductee and five-time Grammy winner, Robert Cray is fantastic on “The Midnight Hour,” originally recorded by Ray Charles in 1952. It is well followed by Jazz and R&B vocalist Ledisi’s “Evil Gal Blues”.
The album closes with another lively instrumental “Rock Candy” delivered flawlessly by the renowned George Benson. Throughout Basie Swings The Blues the Count Basie Orchestra flows the album together with both mood-altering rhythms and horn exclamation points. Full disclosure. Basie Swings The Blues is not a blues rock album. What it is; is something extraordinary, classic, and yet unique.
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Let’s Have a Good Time
– I’m A Woman
– The Patton Basie Shuffle
– Down Home Blues
– Stormy Monday
– The Midnight Hour
The Big Hit
– I’m A Woman
Buy the album: Amazon