Tuesday, May 24, 2011

May 24: Count Basie, "One O'Clock Jump"

Artist: Count Basie
Song: "One O'Clock Jump"
Album: One O'Clock Jump (single 78)
Year: 1937

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

While it goes without saying that every genre influenced at least one other that followed, there are only a select few styles of music which one can argue had impact on every genre that developed in its wake, and there was no other that remains as long lasting and wide-reaching as that of swing music.  Whether it is the energy, the groove, or the way in which musicians approached the arrangements, it is easy to link all the way to modern pop music, and yet it is within the original sounds of swing that one can experience some of the most timeless and fantastic music ever recorded.  It was also in these "big bands" where a massive number of jazz innovators were able to hone their skills, and it is almost impossible to name all of the players that did just this under the direction and guidance of the great Count Basie.  In many ways defining the entire swing and big band sound, Basie led bands and composed new music for the better part of fifty years, and yet it was in the early years that he recorded some of his most important work.  While other band leaders would write more unique and groundbreaking pieces, it was the energy and attitude within Basie's bands that led to him largely defining the entire era, and even those that are not familiar with his work know his name.  While his personality defined that time period, one can easily argue that there is no song that better represents the entire swing sound that one finds in Count Basie's classic 1937 recording, "One O'Clock Jump."

From almost the instant that the song begins, the energy is at full strength, and it never relents for even a moment.  The musicians quickly lock in with one another, and the combined level of musical brilliance is a bit less surprising when one realizes that for this recording, Count Basie managed to surround himself with a number of other music legends.  The core of the sound on "One O'Clock Jump" lives within the fantastic horn arrangement, and the bright, pulsing sound is led by the saxophones of Herschel Evans and Lester Young.  It is these two players that maintain the groove underneath the song, and it is also the way in which this mood stays in place while they trade solos that makes "One O'Clock Jump" so fantastic.  The trombone of George Hunt takes a far more forward place than a majority of songs from the era, and it is his slides and swaying that gives the song its unique sense of movement.  Rounding out the horn section is trumpet player Buck Clayton, and the way in which his performance gives the song a bit of a vocal tone proves just how much diversity one can achieve within a group of horn players.  As these four musicians play around, over, and under one another, "One O'Clock Jump" quickly moves into a category all its own, and it is the energy they create as a group that surely made the song irresistible in dance halls.

Yet even with this unmatched quartet of horn players, Count Basie himself manages to steal the show with his almost subtle performance on piano.  Largely translating the pace of the rhythm section, Basie dances across the keys, clearly letting the music take him where it wishes, and it is this relaxed, yet deep groove from the piano that serves as the ideal finishing touch to "One O'Clock Jump."  In many ways, one can see his performance here as a bit sparse, and yet it is this more textured, punctuating progression that sets the song aside from the rest of his work.  The way in which the lead is passed from musician to musician is seamless in a way unlike any other recording in history, and it is the way in which Basie is able to control the other players without needing to outshine them that enables "One O'Clock Jump" to become so much more than the sum of its parts.  In fact, one would be hard pressed to find a better example of the "head arrangement" approach to improvisation, as the way in which the other musicians build off of whomever is on the lead is as good as music gets.  It is this layered sound that would define so many later genres, and one can also assume that the amount of listening and interaction between the musicians on "One O'Clock Jump" is unprecedented.  Whether it is due to his own superb musical performance, or the way in which he is able to quietly lead the band, there is no question that the star of "One O'Clock Jump" is Count Basie.

Almost as soon as "One O'Clock Jump" was released, it became a classic of the swing era, and countless other groups have covered the song over the decades.  While everyone from Benny Goodman to Lionel Hampton took their own spin on the song, using it as a frequent part of their set, "One O'Clock Jump" has managed to become truly timeless, and it still makes appearances within modern music.  Case in point: Rush drummer Neil Peart used the songs' framework to close his solos throughout many of the bands' recent tours, and "One O'Clock Jump" still finds its way into films and television shows that refer to that era.  It is in this fact that one can see how "One O'Clock Jump" not only defines the swing sound, but in many ways, the entire time period, and this ability to sum up a moment in history is why certain songs are able to rise above others.  Truth be told though, "One O'Clock Jump" was not without its share of controversy, as legend says that the song was originally titled "Blue Ball."  However, early on in the development of the song, a radio announcer felt that such a title was far too risqué, and it was given the title which it retains to this day.  From the fantastic melody to the amazing way in which the lead on the song is passed around the group, one can quickly understand just why Count Basie remains "the" figure of the swing era, as there is no better a definition of that style that what one can experience within his magnificent 1937 single, "One O'Clock Jump."

No comments: