The Count Basie Orchestra on "Duke Ellington Day" at
the University of Michigan Jazz Festival
Michigan Governor John Engler declared Februrary 15, 2002, Duke Ellington Day. The University of Michigan hosted a day-long jazz festival in Ann Arbor. Thirty collegiate and high school bands came from all over the state to celebrate the occasion. There were workshops and seminars and panel discussions on jazz. And the University of Michigan Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of Ellen Rowe, made everybody believe the future of jazz was in good hands (with an audio clip of "Frankie's Tune" leading JazzSet to illustrate).
For the highlight of Duke Ellington Day, Assistant Professor and Festival organizer Dennis Wilson brought in another band. It's one in which he spent ten years making beautiful music - the Count Basie Orchestra! In Ann Arbor, the band performed its own signature tunes and music by Duke Ellington.
At the Power Center for the Performing Arts, Grover Mitchell conducts, and the show opens with a tune by Ernie Wilkins simply called "Basie," Ellington's "In a Mellotone," and back to Ernie Wilkins for "Way Out Basie."
Mitchell has been with the Basie Band since 1962. Fellow trombonist Bill Hughes joined Basie and got married in 1953, and he's been with the same band and wife ever since. In a panel discussion the day of the concert, he described the differences between the Count and Duke Ellington. Bill said,
These two guys were perhaps two of the greatest psychologists on the face of the earth. Duke had a way of dealing with his men with a sort of benign indifference . . . . Basie on the other hand was the kind of a guy who could almost look at you and tell you what you were thinking. He'll look at you and say, 'Yeah,' and that would be the end of it, and you're standing there thinking, 'Did this guy just read my mind, or what?'
Bill Hughes and Grover Mitchell are passing that laid-back Basie legacy on to the younger band members. Of course, the youngsters don't always have it easy! Pianist Tony Suggs took a LOT of teasing about his flashy baggy tuxedo and dreadlocks, but he didn't seem to mind. He said he was just happy to be in this band.
Tony is featured on Benny Carter's homage to Kansas City, "Vine Street Rumble." Vocalist Jamie Davis comes to the JazzSet stage for "Autumn Leaves" and a blues, "The Outskirts of Town." The drummer is another Basie vet, Butch Miles.
What better band to celebrate Duke Ellington Day than the Count Basie Orchestra? For years, these were the top two big bands in the land, and according to Grover Mitchell, they shared great mutual respect, which was forged out of a strong rivalry.
I don't care how cool you get in saying "I'm doing my thing," you always have rivals, that's how you improve, and in a quiet sort of way we were at each other's throats! . . . you had to have something to match yourself against.
For the first time in the Basie Band's history, Grover and the Count's men pay tribute to the Duke by performing Ellington's suite, "Night Creature," commissioned in 1955 by the Symphony of the Air. In his notes for the piece, Duke wrote, "Night creatures, unlike stars, do not come out at night. They come ON, each thinking that before the night is out, he or she will be the star." The Count Basie Orchestra is joined by the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kenneth Kiesler, to conclude with the second and third movements of "Night Creature."
The Count Basie Orchestra is Conductor: Grover Mitchell; Trumpets: William "Scotty" Barnhart, Shawn C. Edmonds, Endre Rice, Michael P. Williams: Trombones: Clarence Banks, William Hughes, David Keim, Alvin Walker: Saxophones: John Kelson, Doug Lawrence, Marshall McDonald, Doug Miller, John Williams: Vocals: Jamie Davis: Piano: Tony Suggs; Guitar: Will Matthews; Bass: James Leary; Drums: Butch Miles.
Our thanks to the Power Center staff, including Production Manager Amanda Mengden, House Sound Man Roger Arnett Junior, and Senior Technician Barry Larue.
Our show was a production of three JazzSet stations: WEMU in Ypsilanti, Michigan; KUVO in Denver; and WBGO-FM in Newark. Mike Pappas was our on-site Music Mixer and Field Producer, along with Assistant Producer Linda Yohn, James Cornish, Nick Thompson and Chris Konovoliv. There's an article about Mike's high end recording technique in the March 8 issue of Radio World.
Thanks to Neumann USA for providing microphones for our recording, and to Al Hurschman of Alliance Audio on site in Michigan.
Our special thanks to Festival Executive Director Dennis Wilson, and to Karen Wolff, Dean of the University of Michigan School of Music. JazzSet funding came from the University of Michigan School of Michigan and and the Martin Luther King, Jr. / Cesar Chavez / Rosa Visiting Professors Program, bringing the Count Basie Orchestra, with the Dave Holland Big Band, back to Ann Arbor on February 15th, 2003!
Additional thanks are due to the Count Basie Orchestra, Aaron Woodward III and Dorothea Askew; Sibelius Music Notation; the San Jose Jazz Society in California; Edwards Trombones; CAAS (the Center for Afroamerican & African Studies at the U of M); International Association of Jazz Education; Phi Mu Alpha; with thanks to Dean Lester Monts, Ed Sarett, and Donald Walden.
This show was written and produced by Mark Schramm, with technical director is Duke Markos.