How Count Basie Brought Big Band Jazz Into the Atomic Age
Mitchell Cohen, Music Aficionado, April 2020
POST-WORLD WAR II America was a bleak period for the big-band business. It was the sound that accompanied the country during the Depression and through the war—the comforting warmth of Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, the Dorseys; the sentimental ballads of loss and longing, the lively escapism—but with peacetime, those large ensembles for dancing and dreaming were falling out of fashion. It was a time of smaller groups, like Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five and the Nat King Cole Trio, and the economics of taking more than a dozen players out on the road simply weren't adding up at the end of the '40s. Some bandleaders scaled back, keeping reduced combos. Pianist Count Basie, who commanded an orchestra that made a mighty noise, and featured such musicians as Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Jo Jones, and Illinois Jacquet, and singers Jimmy Rushing and Helen Humes (and, for a short time, Billie Holiday, before she joined Artie Shaw's outfit), did the math and dismantled his powerhouse ensemble.
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