Going strong after 78 years, one of the most celebrated big bands of all time, The Legendary Count Basie Orchestra, is coming to Grass Valley for a special concert presented by The Center for the Arts today. The orchestra will bring its signature swing with a performance by guest vocalist Carmen Bradford at 7:30 p.m.
The orchestra has garnered 17 Grammy awards and 20 Down Beat and JazzTimes Readers and Critics Poll awards, more than any other big band in jazz. Over the years, the big band has collaborated with many jazz giants such as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles. Some of the finest musicians in the world, such as Neal Hefti and Quincy Jones, have become synonymous with the band.
William Count Basie died in 1984, shortly before turning 80, but his legendary swing era big band lives on, now led by Dennis Mackrel.
“This band really has a history together,” Mackrel said. “Not only are they great musicians themselves but they can second-guess each other. It’s like when you dance with a partner for many years; you can anticipate their movements.”
Mackrel was just 21 when the late Count Basie chose him to join the band. He remember Basie “like a grandfather,” a person who was easy to be around.
“When he would play a solo, it wouldn’t be very long, but you can’t imagine a better solo,” Mackrel said. “He was very much like that as a leader. He never said a lot, but when he spoke you knew, ‘this is really, really important.’”
Basie started the Count Basie Orchestra in 1935, in Kansas City, Mo., Within a year, America was listening in on popular radio shows throughout the country to hear what would become “The Swinging-est Band In All The Land.”
Born in Red Bank, N.J., in 1904, Basie began his career as an itinerant pianist who made his living pounding keys in theaters featuring silent movies and touring in black communities across the country.
In 1927, Basie found himself “high and dry” in Kansas City, a city considered a cauldron for the heady mixture of blues, swinging rhythms and instrumentalists coalescing to form a new genre of American music. Basie quickly fell in with the best of the territory bands, including Walter Page’s Blue Devils and Benny Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra.
By 1935, he was leading the band that epitomized Kansas City Swing, the Count Basie Orchestra. Along with the bands of Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, Basie’s orchestra would define the big band era.
Carmen Bradford was discovered and hired by Basie and was the featured vocalist in the legendary Count Basie Orchestra for nine years. Bradford performed on two Grammy Award-winning albums with the Basie band in the 1980s and later collaborated on a third Grammy Award-winning album, “Big Boss Band,” with guitarist George Benson in 1991.
She has performed or recorded with Wynton Marsalis, Shelly Berg, Nancy Wilson, Doc Severinsen, Tony Bennett, James Brown, Patti Austin, Byron Stripling, Dori Caymmi, George Benson, Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, Joe Williams, DIVA Jazz Orchestra, the National Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and countless artists around the world.
Tickets for Wednesday’s show are $35 for members of the Center, $40 for non-members and can be purchased at BriarPatch Co-op, or at the Center’s Box Office in person, by phone or online.