Review: ‘KC and the Count’
Jazz at Lincoln Center launched another season with “KC and the Count” celebrating a formidable time and place in the history of jazz. Kansas City served as a base for the birth of boogie-woogie and the development of a young New Jersey-born pianist, William “Count” Basie. Under the direction of Wynton Marsalis, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra re-created the spirit of an age and the great virtues of the kid from Red Bank.
Concert kicked off with “Dickie’s Dream.” Lester Young’s homage to Basie trombonist Dickie Wells, played with a fervent sense of early swing by Wycliffe Gordon. “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” was an unspoken tribute to the jazz that emanated from the Crescent City.
Born in Kansas City in 1922, Basie band alumnus Frank Wess brought a tidy finish to the concert’s first half. He framed “I Know That You Know” and “Blue and Sentimental” with beautifully inventive lines, but it was the Pres evergreen “Lester Leaps In” that truly soared. Wess possesses a beautiful tone, and he never succumbs to showy flights. The purity of his playing and his fiercely keen imagination is a joy to behold.
Reed anchors, Sherman Irby and Victor Goines united for cleanly balanced turns on the Herschel Evans classic “Doggin’ Around.” Walter Blanding, dubbed a “boudoir tenor” by frontman Marsalis, offered a lush solo on “Our Bridges,” and “Four Hundred Swing” turned out to be the concert’s peak moment. A high register trumpet battle between Marcus Printup and Sean Jones fueled the exciting moment the aud was waiting for.
All night long, James Chirillo embodied the bold chunky support that was the hallmark of legendary guitarist Freddie Greene, a charter member of the Basie rhythm section. Throughout the evening, the tasteful piano of Dan Nimmer reflected the Count’s restraint and airy economy of style. The concert was built from the rhythm section and it was a solidly firm foundation that pushed the band to its glories.
A big audience favorite was a surprise visitation by trumpeter Clark Terry whose salty solo for “I Want a Little Girl” was followed by an infectiously saucy vocal chorus. On “Countless Blues” Terry played with his trademark melodic flavoring and a knowing highly personalized vocabulary.
Singer Jennifer Sanon was on hand and more than a little bit nervous for an emotionally barren “Good Morning Blues.” The tune was a KC blues staple of legendary Basie vocalist Jimmy Rushing. More in keeping with the elegance and joy that Rushing brought to the blues was “Boogie Woogie,” given a gritty go by trombonist Gordon.
The first influential wave of jazz emanated from Kansas City and the celebration of its bountiful landscape and legacy is a welcome one.
by Robert L. Daniels