The Count Basie Orchestra celebrates its 85th anniversary
Spearheaded by the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation and in collaboration with
Jazz Arts Project; Red Bank honors this hallmark with exhibits, and music events.
In February, just in time for Valentines Day, Gilda Rogers of the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation presented a kick off reception for the year-long Basie Celebration. The event was entitled "A Love Letter to Count Basie. Prominent musicians and dignitaries were asked to write letters to the Count expressing their feelings for his legacy and his music. Our student from the Jazz Arts Academy performed and the Following letter which was written by Jazz Arts Artistic Director Joe Muccioli was read at the event.
The music of William “Count” Basie, while clearly in the category of classic jazz, is unabashedly steeped in the blues. A lilting, swinging, happy sounding version of the blues that emanated from deep in the belly of the American or —perhaps more accurately— the African-American experience of the era. Basie reflected the truest sense of our culture, our history and certainly of our music. His story and his legacy has always been a personal inspiration not only to me but to millions of people across the globe as well.
Jazz music has come to be recognized as a uniquely American art form. It is pure expression of individualism within the confines of social (and musical) structure. It is an amalgam of several disparate cultures blending into one swinging melting pot. Born of hope and freedom, Jazz celebrates American values and portrays clear democratic ideals, even though it was pioneered and initially performed largely by those who were routinely denied the ful
l extent of the American dream. At its origins, it is the cry of a race of people transplanted against their will to American soil, a reaction to the oppression and the horrors they endured, and an expression in music of that which could not be openly said. Over the years this music has been celebrated and performed by people of every race, and culture. It is arguably America’s greatest and most welcomed export. It is America’s “Classical Music.”
Since the Count Basie Orchestra continues to tour and perform throughout the world more than eight decades after its formation, it is simultaneously, an historic and living example of a cultural gift to the world.
As a musician myself I can honestly say that his music has helped to shape and inform my life and my career. I know there are countless others who feel the same way. I have been lucky and honored through many years to be able to travel and perform in venues all around the world. I have met musicians of every nationality and persuasion and I can say that we all share admiration and a gratefulness for the Basie legacy. Once, while in Sofia Bulgaria (of all places) I was working on a recording project. On a break, I happened to strike up a conversation with someone at nearby a coffee shop. This man was not a musician and spoke very little English and with a thick accent. As the conversation progressed he asked me where I was from. The states of course but where? I answered with what I thought he would recognize, just outside of New York, I told him. Oh really where is that? New Jersey. Is that your town? No, I said, finally, I live in Red Bank, NJ. Oh! He exclaimed Count Basie!
So, as the founder and Artistic Director of the non-profit Jazz Arts Project, I am thrilled to be able to present music of Count Basie from time to time in our concerts and events. For many years we produced the Sinatra Birthday Bash at the Count Basie Theater and we always celebrated the collaboration that Frank Sinatra and Count Basie made on the classic albums such as Sinatra at the Sands. His is a continuing living legacy as long as we all can listen and play his music and tap our toes or dance to the lilting swing that was practically invented by William “Count” Basie and his Orchestra.
2020 the year of Basie!
Count Basie was born in Red Bank in 1904 and walked the streets of Red Bank like we do today. He attended school here and was inspired to become a musical entertainer by the annual carnival that came to town. “2020: The Year of Basie” will involve as many merchants, businesses, local officials, art galleries, theaters and others to celebrate the name of Count Basie. The year-long campaign will showcase “pop-up” exhibits throughout the town that focuses on “The Kid from Red Bank.” The town-wide public exhibit will tell the story and roots of Count Basie, a story that hasn’t been told anywhere in Red Bank. There’s so much to the Count Basie story that people who live, work and shop here do not know. The bandleader was revered by jazz musicians and his legacy lives on today through the Count Basie Orchestra, which is celebrating its 85th Anniversary this year. The T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center is prepared to tell his story and underscore this rich history that Red Bank takes pride in.