Count Basie and Kay Starr


Sign in to view read count
Count Basie fans tend to focus on his hard-driving “Super Chief" bands of the 1940s and his stylistic “New Testament" bands of the 1950s. And rightly so. But often overlooked is Basie's output during the 1960s, when he recorded more than 30 albums, many of them slam-bang swingers. Coming off his Roulette Records contract in the summer of 1962, Basie began to record for Reprise, starting with his first album with Frank Sinatra in October '62. Then he alternated between Reprise and Verve until 1966, when he recorded one-offs for ABC-Paramount, Command, Columbia, Brunswick, Dot and MPS.

Over the past few days, I've been listening to this underappreciated Basie decade, rediscovering forgotten gems. These include String Along With Basie (with string arrangements by George Williams); Easin' It (Frank Foster); This Time By Basie (Quincy Jones); More Hits of the '50s and '60s (Billy Byers); Straight Ahead (Sammy Nestico); Basic Basie (Chico O'Farrill); and Basie on the Beatles (Bob Florence). And these are just a handful. Pop Goes the Basie, Basie Meets Bond, Hollywood Basie's Way, Back With Basie, Standing Ovation and so many others are impossibly great.

One album that came as a complete surprise was How About This, featuring vocalist Kay Starr wtih the Basie band, with arrangements by Dick Hyman. The album was recorded in December 1968 for Paramount and featured Al Aarons (tp, flhrn) Oscar Brashear, Gene Goen and Sonny Cohn (tp); Richard Boone, Steve Galloway and Grover Mitchell (tb); Bill Hughes (b-tb); Bobby Plater (fl,as); Eric Dixon (fl,ts,p); Charlie Fowlkes (fl,bar); Marshal Royal (cl,as); Eddie “Lockjaw" Davis (ts); Dick Hyman (org,arr,cond); Count Basie (p,celeste); Freddie Green (g); Norman Keenan (b) and Harold Jones (d).

The album is a surprise because many of Basie's albums backing singers in the 1960s came up short. The flops that come to mind are those with Sammy Davis Jr., Arthur Prysock, Jackie Wilson, Irene Reid, the Alan Copeland Singers and the Mills Brothers. Albums with Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Williams are solid.

How About This is superb because the song choices were smart and pop giant Starr (above) was really a closet jazz singer, as evidenced on Jazz Singer (1960) and I Cry By Night (1961). Basie's band wraps around Starr's bluesy, after-hours phrasing, and Starr is firmly in charge; the band merely has to tag along. What I love most is that Starr and Basie speak the same so-called language. Starr had a voice that sounded similar to Dinah Washington's but it was a little more pleading in tone than brashly demanding. Starr, like Washington, also could swing without thinking about it. 

The songs are I Get the Blues When It Rains, God Bless the Child, Baby Won't You Please Come Home?, Ain't No Use, Keep Smiling at Trouble, If I Could Be With You, My Man, Hallelujah I Love Him So, I Can't Stop Loving You and Goodtime Girl.

If I could have been at one Basie vocal recording session in the 1960s, it would be this one. As good as the Basie-Sinatra albums are, there's something else going on here that only a gal singer from Oklahoma could understand. I wish I had interviewed her.

Kay Starr died in 2016; Count Basie died in 1984.

JazzWax tracks: How About This is hard to find, but the CD appears to be available here. And the entire album can be heard, starting here...

Continue Reading...

This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved.


Shop for Music

Start your music shopping from All About Jazz and you'll support us in the process. Learn how.

More News