The Sixties

My McGill schoolmate Hugh Hartwell, an accomplished pianist, sent me a link recently to a video of Count Basie’s big band. The hour-long film of a live concert was shot in 1962 (in Sweden), pretty much the same band I heard in Birdland in 1959 when I was sixteen, although Joe Williams is absent here. What is most striking about the film, apart from the wonderful music, are the serious demeanors of the musicians. Basie clearly ran a tight ship and no one is fooling around—except maybe Sonny Payne, a bit. These are pros doing a job, which just happens to be playing great jazz. The sixties are associated with student unrest, the Vietnam War, and really ugly cars, but it was also a time when a big band like Basie’s could make music that, fifty years later, still sounds thrilling.

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