The legendary Count Basie Orchestra, directed by Scotty Barnhart with guest vocalist Carmen Bradford, will perform for free at 8 p.m. on Feb. 9 at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater as a gift to the community from the Jacobs School of Music.
Since its founding in 1935 by jazz icon Count Basie, the orchestra has performed at IU three times prior, with their most recent performance being held at the IU Auditorium in 2005. Now 18 years later, they have returned to entertain the IU community.
Currently on tour, the orchestra reached out to Abra Bush, dean of the Jacobs School of Music, and offered to perform a free show for the IU community. Helping to organize the performance on Feb. 9 was Thomas Walsh, a professor of music at the Jacobs School of Music.
When it came to hosting the Count Basie Orchestra after so many years, Walsh took it as a tremendous honor to be able to display the iconic legacy preserved within an orchestra who — since its founding — has been incredibly important to the music scene.
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“They came out of Kansas City at the time when each city had its own style of jazz,” Walsh said. “And when they started to tour, it was very influential. Other musicians heard their style and began to emulate it.”
The music of the orchestra is very much in tune with what made Count Basie so popular — a swinging style of jazz. Walsh explained that what gave them their unique sound and infectious rhythm was their heavy use of “riffs.”
“They had a style based on playing riffs — which are short melodic ideas,” Walsh said. “They would build arrangements out of these riffs, which made a very swinging sound. These riffs would build up energy to create the swing.”
Their iconic use of musical riffs in their performances would go on to heavily influence the swing sound for big bands in the 1950s and ‘60s and are still emulated to this day. Because of this history, Walsh emphasized the significance of the Count Basie Orchestra performing at IU once more.
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“We get to hear a band which is steeped in this history that is performing in a style that has become the reference point for what swing is,” Walsh said.
Two members of the band were hired by Basie himself: guest vocalist Carmen Bradford and trombonist Clarence Banks — only adding to the tremendous weight this performance at the Buskirk-Chumley already carries.
The afternoon of Feb. 9, the orchestra will also host a master class for the Jacobs School of Music students in Tom Walsh’s Jazz Ensemble. The class will take place after the ensemble plays a cover of “The Blues Machine” for the orchestra.
“They’re going to meet with my ensemble and hear them play this tune that the Count Basie Orchestra recorded,” Walsh said. “Then, they’re going to coach our students on this tune and it’s going to be an amazing opportunity and experience for our musicians.”