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Count Basie: The Complete Cleff/Verve Count Basie Fifties Studio Recordings

Conventional wisdom among Count Basie experts is that Basie’s 1937-1941 outfit was nonpareil. With Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Harry Edison, Buck Clayton, Dicky Wells, Earle Warren and the incomparable All-American Rhythm Section, Basie achieved an apogee of swinging that set the standard for generations of musicians. It was a soloist’s band and a head arrangement band, capable of spontaneity equaled only by Woody Herman’s First Herd for a short time in the mid-’40s.

Fair enough. But Basie ran a strong second place to himself with the new band he put together in 1951. Big bands were in trouble after the air went out of the swing era, and Basie had misgivings, but Billy Eckstine had dogged him for months and finally convinced him that the world-or at least Eckstine-needed Basie at the helm of a large aggregation. Eckstine was producing tours of jazz stars. Chris Albertson tells the story in a comprehensive essay accompanying these eight CDs.

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