Count Basie’s band from Kansas City reached New York in December of 1936. Musicians took to them immediately, but the general public took a bit longer. Basie’s big break came in July 1938, when the band started broadcasting from the 52nd Street club the Famous Door. Music from those broadcasts makes up half of a new sampler of live Basie from the period. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says it’s choice:
“Basie specialized in the brand of blues that laughs at trouble. The music’s exceptional buoyancy stemmed from a four-piece rhythm section, with Basie on piano. Folks often say rhythm guitarist Freddie Green was more felt than heard. But sometimes his chomping beat came through loud and clear.”
Pres, in his famous interview with François Positif, states that what he was playing now was modern – that he didn’t want to play like he was playing when he was with Count Basie in the 1930s.
It’s unfortunate that except for the Una Mae Carlisle session for Bluebird in 1941, we do not have much in the way of recorded examples of the small groups Lester Young led after he left Count Basie in 1940. Fortunately, this rare WNYC remote broadcast exists of Jazz University of the Air hosted by Ralph Burton.