Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Count's Cojones

Where did Count Basie get his nerve? Among the many felicities to be found on the original version of "Lester Leaps In," few are as exhilarating as Basie's utterly original, stripped-to-the-bone piano work. The man of the hour, Lester Young, indeed leaps and lopes,sounding not a wit like any of his peers. Basie is just as audacious, just as anxious to calmly spit in the eye of swing conventions.If, say, Teddy Wilson's elegant improvisations were finely crafted sentences, Basie's keyboard utterances were a sprinkling of vowels. How did he get away with it? It all comes down to the brilliant, wild moment at 2:45 when he begins his solo. Following the horn riff that sets up the break, Basie gets ready for his closeup. "Ding-dong, Ding-dong." Four notes, a mere two notes repeated. Call it telegraphic, minimalist,frugal, aphoristic, whatever -- it's just plain ballsy. (Try to imagine what Waller or Tatum might have fit into that moment in the sun.) Everything about this "Lester Leaps In" is gorgeous, but Basie's revolutionary contributions ( later to offer inspiration to such giants as John Lewis, Ahmad Jamal, Jimmy Rowles, and Thelonious Monk) are so off-the-wall, yet so right -- they can make you laugh out loud.

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