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Count Basie's band was the only orchestra that repeatedly re-invented itself across five decades with greater success each time. There were plenty of bands that soldiered on long after they were in vogue. But Basie managed to remain fresh and hip by sticking to swing and allowing modern arrangers to update the Basie book and concept. [Photo of Count Basie above by Herb Snitzer]
While jazz historians tend to divide the Basie band into two periods"Old Testament" and New Testament," with the latter starting in 1952, there was really a Third Testament." If the first was built on Lester Young's tenor saxophone (Lester Leaps In) and the second on the saxophones of Frank Foster and Frank Wess (April in Paris, Atomic Basie, etc.), then the third was a new jet-engine swing sound crafted by arrangers Quincy Jones, Billy Byers and Bobby Plater.
This band started roughly in 1963, with Basie's recording of This Time By Basie!/Hits of the 50s and 60s. During this period, the band hit its highpoint with a BBC-TV broadcast in London in September 1965. You be the judge. A big thanks to Bret Primack for sending along the link...
The band: Wallace Davenport, Sonny Cohn, Al Aarons and Phil Guilbeau (tp); Grover Mitchell, Henderson Chambers and Al Grey (tb); Bill Hughes (b-tb); Marshal Royal (as,cl); Bobby Plater (as,fl,arr); Eric Dixon (ts,fl,arr); Eddie Lockjaw" Davis (ts); Charlie Fowlkes (bar); Count Basie (p); Freddie Green (g); Norman Keenan (b) and Rufus Jones (d).
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.