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'Count on the Coast': Basie, '58

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In June and July 1958, the Count Basie Orchestra was booked into the Crescendo at 8572 Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. The club (along with the Interlude) was owned by disc jockey Gene Norman, who had purchased the property in 1954 from singer Billy Eckstine when the space was named the Chanticlair. Norman renamed the club the Crescendo but retained Eckstine's “open door" policy—allowing for integrated audiences.

Los Angeles, with its burgeoning movie industry, may have seemed progressive, but the city actually was heavily segregated in the 1940s and 1950s. Real estate covenants prevented blacks from moving out of the South Central area, and a strong-armed police force made sure blacks and integrated couples and groups didn't linger in the white suburbs and the city's businesses without being pulled-over or harassed. West Hollywood was one of the few areas where the races mixed relatively freely, thanks to progressive club policies.

Gene Norman sold the Crescendo in 1963 to concentrate on his GNP Crescendo record label, and in 1965, the club became The Trip. 

Basie's West Coast tour was in full swing by mid-1958 and the band—with its “Atomic" book of arrangements—was in top form: Thad Jones, Snooky Young, Wendell Culley, Joe Newman (tp) Benny Powell, Henry Coker, Al Grey (tb) Frank Wess (as,ts,fl) Marshal Royal (as,cl) Billy Mitchell (ts) Frank Foster (ts,arr) Charlie Fowlkes (bar) Count Basie (p) Freddie Green (g) Eddie Jones (b) Sonny Payne (d) and Joe Williams (vcl).

The band's run at the Crescendo was recorded at various points along the way, with material from different nights sufacing in later years on a range of lables, incluidng Phontastic, Status, Laserlight and Jazz Hour. To my ear, the Phontastic material is the finest live audio I've heard of Basie's Atomic band at its peak—finer than the Roulette releases.

Unfortunately, the Phontastic Crescendo recordings are hard to come by digitally. The sound is great, and the live swinging tracks demonstrate why the band was such a club attraction. Best of all, the band probably didn't know it was being recorded, allowing for a relaxed, powerful delivery.

JazzWax tracks: Many (but not all) of the Crescendo tracks have turned up on a series of different releases (there may be some overlap): Count on the Coast here; Count Basie and his Orchestra: Count on the Coast vol. 1, in Stereo, 1958 here; Count Basie and his Orchestra: Count on the Coast vol. 3, in Stereo, 1958 here.

JazzWax clip: Watch the following clip carefully and you'll see the Crescendo on the left at 00:17. Odd talent mix on the marquee. Woody Woodbury—a comic who in '62 would replace a Tonight Show-bound Johnny Carson as host of the game show Who Do You Trust?—was the headliner, with the Ink Spots and a steel band...



Pages. A superb history of the fluid West Hollywood club scene in the 1950s and 1960s can be found in Riot on Sunset Strip (Jawbone Press), by Domenic Priore.


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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved.
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