Count Basie – Basie Plays Hefti – Original Versus Reissue

The original pressings are the best, right?

Not in our experience. It’s (probably) just another Record Myth.

Basie was recording like a madman back in the late ’50s and even all through the ’60s. In 1958, the year of this release, he put out seven (7!) albums on the Roulette label. We’ve played quite a number of them over the years and found relatively few with audiophile quality sound.

Including the original Roulette pressing of this very title. We’ve only heard a few, and had only one for our shootout, but it was awful enough to make us swear off buying more, especially considering the prices vintage jazz albums are going for these days.

Hard and sour brass, no real top or bottom, it’s the sound of a poorly mastered Old Jazz Record, fine for the consoles of the day, not so good on today’s advanced stereo systems. Emus seems to be the only way to go.

Don’t buy into that record collecting / audiophile canard that the originals are better.

And of course we absolutely loved the music. I had a chance to see the Basie Big Band perform not long ago at Disney Hall and a fairly large chunk of the music and arrangements they play these days are Neal’s, practically half I would venture to guess. Meaning simply that Hefti’s music has clearly stood the test of time. Play this album and you’re sure to see what I mean.


Some arrangers seem made to order for certain bands. Don Redman and Benny Carter and Horace Henderson fitted a variety of organizations in the twenties and thirties in this way. Billy Strayhorn was obviously born to write for the Duke Ellington band as Sy Oliver was to write for Jimmie Lunceford and Fletcher Henderson for Benny Goodman. And now it seems that Neal Hefti has found his band in Count Basie and Count his composer and arranger in Neal.

Like Fletcher’s writing for Benny’s musicians, Neal’s suits the tastes and temperaments of the Basie men in every sort of detail. It provides settings for soloists which bring them out bar by bar, texture by texture, idea by idea as they rarely have been before. It is a style of scoring at least as much intuitive as it is instructed in the thinking and playing procedures of these jazzmen.

Some, either because of a similar set of likes and dislikes or because of his keen ear or considerable playing and writing experience, Neal knows the right figures to make Frand Wess blow his most forceful flute, Joe Newman his most swinging trumpet, Snookie Young his most soulful horn and Thad Jones his most elegant. One way or another, he has provided Marshall Royal with an adequate background for his large alto sound and given the Basie tenormen, Billy Mitchell and Frank Foster, a spacious alley in which to chase each other and found room for Al Grey’s big, guttural trombone pushes and pulls.

Altogether, this is a sounding record. As in the previous Basie collection in this series, the band has been brought back alive. It is again startling to hear the full power of the full band and to have again the dynamic brilliances of brass and reeds preserved intact. It is a wonderful experience to hear Frank Wess’s flute vibrating like the wind instrument it is and not at all overshadowed by the rest of this loud, proud band, and it is a considerable kick to be able to observe, in detail, the nuances of tone and minutiae of technique which separates the trumpet sounds of Snookie Young and Joe Newman and Thad Jones from each other. When Basie plays Hefti and is recorded this way, it is an event, one that I am pleased to able to salute.