Top Artists – Count Basie

Ella Fitzgerald – Ella and Basie!

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A distinguished member of the  Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

Take it from an Ella fan, you can’t go wrong with this one. On the best pressings, the sound is rich and full-bodied in the best tradition of a classic vintage jazz vocal album with big band backup. You could easily demonstrate your stereo with a good copy, but what you would really be demonstrating is music that the listener probably isn’t familiar with, and that’s the best reason to put on an old record. 

On the best copies, the space is HUGE and the sound so rich, with prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic as well, which is key. The sound needs weight, warmth and tubes or you might as well be playing a CD.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record. We know, we heard them all. There is a marked tendency on this recording to have a bit of honk or squawk, but our best copies are free from this problem.

We’re glad to report this copy was doing more of what we wanted it to do than any other we played. And we know a fair bit about Ella’s recordings at this point. As of today we’ve done commentaries for more than a dozen different Ella Fitzgerald albums, and that’s not counting the sixteen (yes, 16!) titles we put in our Hall of Shame.

We’ve searched high and low for her records and played them by the score over the years. We plan to keep a good supply on to the site in the coming years so watch for new arrivals in the Vocal section (linked to the left).

Hardness and Brashness

Want to know what we are on about with all this talk of hardness and brashness? Easy, just play the average copy. Unless you are exceptionally fortunate and chanced upon a properly mastered and pressed and cared for copy, you will hear plenty of both.

It’s one of the main reasons we have such a hard time doing shootouts for Ella’s ’50s and ’60s albums. The other of course is the poor condition most copies are in. Few pressings do not have marks that play or damaged grooves. The record players of the ’50s and ’60s, not to mention their owners, were ruinous on the albums of the day.

Which is simply another reason not to expect another top copy of this album to come to the site any time soon. Give us two or three years or so and we might be able to find another batch with which to do a shootout. In that time we will surely look at fifty copies, buy ten, and end up with five that are worth playing.

Obviously, we wouldn’t bother if the music and sound weren’t so good. When you are lucky enough to find a copy that sounds as good as this one, full of standards from the Great American Songbook, you cannot help but recognize that this era for Ella will never be equaled, by her or anyone else.

Stereo Vs. Mono

It is our opinion that the mono takes all the fun out of the Quincy Jones’ deliberately wide, spacious orchestral presentation surrounding Ella. Which is too bad: the mono pressings are five times as common as the stereo ones.

Val Valentin Behind the Board

VAL VALENTIN‘s engineering credits run for days. Some high points are of course Ella and Louis and Getz/Gilberto.

Recently we played a copy of We Get Requests by the Oscar Peterson Trio that blew our mind. And we have been big fans of Mel Tormé Swings Shubert Alley for more than a decade.

Pull up his credits on Allmusic. No one I am familiar with other than Rudy Van Gelder recorded more great jazz and vocals, and in our opinion, Valentin’s recordings are quite a bit more natural sounding than Rudy’s.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Honeysuckle Rose 
‘Deed I Do
Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall
Them There Eyes 
Dream a Little Dream of Me
Tea for Two

Side Two

Satin Doll 
I’m Beginning to See the Light 
Shiny Stockings 
My Last Affair 
Ain’t Misbehavin’ 
On the Sunny Side of the Street

AMG 4 1/2 Star Review

Surprisingly enough this 1963 LP was the first time (other than a couple songs) that Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie recorded together. The match-up was so logical that it would be repeated many times over the next 20 years.

Count Basie – I Told You So

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame

This is a Superb Basie Big Band title in every way — musically, sonically, you name it, this album has got it going on! With 18 pieces in the studio, “I Told You So” can be a real powerhouse — if you have the right copy, and this side one, with SUPER HOT Stamper sound, shows you just how lively, fun and dynamic this music can sound.

This is the way it must have sounded in 1976, in the New York studios where it was recorded, with legendary RCA engineer BOB SIMPSON behind the board.

Side one here was close to the best sound we heard in our shootout. If it’s not a Demo Disc it’ll do until one shows up.

I never noticed until recently that the album cover photo for Farmer’s Market Barbecue and this album are exactly the same. Wow, Pablo, that takes balls. (more…)

Frank Sinatra and Count Basie – Sinatra At The Sands – What to Listen For

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There is some edge on Sinatra’s voice on every side of every copy; it’s so common it’s got to be on the tape. Those copies with less edge and grit on the vocals which are not overly smooth or dull tend to do very well in our shootouts.

Also, richness is very important. We look for a combination of rich, Tubey Magical sound that still maintains a fair amount of space, clarity, transparency and freedom from smear.

The original label pressings (always in stereo; the monos are really a joke) are richer and thicker as a rule.

The pressings with the orange two-tone labels tend to be thinner and clearer. A high percentage of them are much too modern sounding, bright and gritty, and when they are we throw them right in the trade-in pile. (more…)

Count Basie & Oscar Peterson – The Timekeepers

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame

Hot Stamper sound on both sides of this Pablo original pressing of the Two Masters in a small group setting. Basie and Peterson recorded five albums together, and this may very well be the best of the bunch, though I have yet to hear one that I didn’t enjoy. I wrote a rave review about this title when I first heard it more than ten years ago. If you like small group piano jazz — here we’re talking two pianists accompanied by Louie Bellson on drums and John Heard on bass — this should be right up your alley. 

Side One

Big, rich pianos. Everything here is clear with no smear, with a fair amount of space. This side is a bit opaque compared to the best we heard, and the bass isn’t quite as deep as it was on the top copies, but overall this side is doing most of what we wanted it to.

Side Two

This side is lively and tonally correct — getting the music right — but lacks extension on both ends. (more…)

Tony Bennett & Count Basie – Strike Up The Band on Emus

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on this Emus pressing of Count Basie and Tony Bennett’s 1959 classic collaboration 
  • The originals we have played are uniformly horrible sounding compared to these wonderful reissues – the tonality here is Right On The Money
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… the pairing between Bennett and Basie remains impressive. The band raves through tunes like “With Plenty Of Money And You,” and Bennett matches them, drawing strength from the bravura arrangements, while band and singer achieve a knowing tenderness on “Growing Pains.” This is an album well worth owning…”

This vintage pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds. (more…)

Count Basie – 88 Basie Street – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame

This is a Top Basie Big Band title in every way — musically, sonically, you name it, this album has got it going on! With 18 pieces in the studio this album can be a real powerhouse — if you have the right copy — and this two-pack with White Hot Stamper sound for each side shows you just how lively and dynamic this music can be. It’s got Demo Disc qualities, no doubt about it.

We’ve become huge fans of these Basie Big Band records. Allen Sides knew just how to record this stuff by the time Basie came around to Pablo — on the best pressings you can hear that this is big band music recorded just right. The sound is clean and clear with excellent transparency and the kind of separation between the instruments that lets you appreciate the contributions of each player. The 3+ sides here are knockouts, with real strength down low, nice extension up top, and incredible clarity and transparency. Play this one good and loud and put yourself front and center for a rip-roarin’ performance led by the king Bill Basie! (more…)

The Recordings of Count Basie – These Four Didn’t Make the Grade

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More That Didn’t Make the Grade

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These are just some of the recordings by Count Basie that we’ve auditioned recently and found wanting. Without going into specifics we’ll just say these albums suffer from poor performances, poor sound, or both, and therefore do not deserve a place in your collection, and may even belong in our Hall of Shame

Free Service provided to the Audiophile Public, courtesy of Better Records. 

Count Basie Albums with Hot Stampers

Count Basie Albums We’ve Reviewed

Count Basie – Chairman of the Board – The Reissues that Beats the Originals (and of course the Classic Records Remaster)

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  • A Shootout Winning copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and Double Plus (A++) sound on the second
  • From first note to last, this copy is big, clear, rich and lively, with huge amounts of space around the band
  • Forget the honky, hard-sounding Roulette originals, and of course the second-rate Classic Records pressing – this reissue is the way to go
  • 4 1/2 stars: “This 1958 date for Roulette was a rare chance for the orchestra to perform on its own, and listeners to hear how powerful the band could be when its concentration was undiverted… The record is admittedly heavy on the blues, but it’s a brassy, powerful vision of the blues… A dynamic date, it shows the ‘new testament’ edition of Basie’s orchestra in top form.”

This reissue is spacious, open, transparent, rich and sweet. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording Technology, with the added benefit of mastering using the more modern cutting equipment of the ’70s. We are of course here referring to the good modern mastering of 30+ years ago, not the dubious and too often disastrous modern mastering of today. 

The combination of old and new works wonders on this title as you will surely hear for yourself on these superb sides. We were impressed with the fact that these pressings excel in so many areas of reproduction. What was odd about it — odd to most audiophiles but not necessarily to us — was just how rich and Tubey Magical the reissue can be on the right pressing.

This leads me to think that most of the natural, full-bodied, lively, clear, rich sound of the album is on the tape, and that all one has to do to get that vintage sound on to a record is simply to thread up the tape on the right machine and hit play. (more…)

Ellington and Basie – The Count Meets the Duke

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First Time – The Count Meets the Duke

 

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  • Shootout Winning sound quality – both sides earned our top grade of Triple Plus (A+++) or close to it
  • Huge amounts of three-dimensional space and ambience, and rich Tubey Magic by the boatload – this 30th Street recording shows just how good Columbia’s engineers were back then 
  • Quiet throughout – good luck finding a Six Eye Stereo pressing this nice on your own, they sure don’t grow on trees
  • “… a very successful and surprisingly uncrowded encounter… Ellington and Basie both play piano (their interaction with each other is wonderful) and the arrangements allowed the stars from both bands to take turns soloing.” – 4 1/2 Stars

What the best sides of this wonderful collaboration between two jazz giants have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes back in 1961
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments of this large group of players having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
  • No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above

Production and Engineering

Teo Macero was the producer, Fred Plaut or Ray Moore were probably the engineers for these sessions — we cannot find the credits to know one way or the other — in Columbia’s glorious sounding 30th Street Studio. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording. (more…)

Basie’s Farmers Market Barbecue – First Among Equals, or The Best Pablo Ever?

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Musically FMB is a Top Basie Big Band title in every way. This should not be surprising: many of his recordings for Pablo in the ’70s and early ’80s display the talents of The Count and his band of veterans at their best.

Sonically it’s another story. Based on our recent shootout for this title, in comparison to the other Basie titles we’ve done lately we would have to say that FMB is the best Basie big band title we’ve ever played. Since so many Basie big band recordings are so good, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves; after all, we haven’t done shootouts for all of his Pablo large group recordings. To be safe we’ll just call this one First Among Equals.

The following are some general guidelines as to What to Listen For (WTLF) while you critically evaluate any of the Basie Big Band Pablo recordings (or any other big band recordings for that matter). 

Simply put, we offer here a short list of qualities that we’ve come to appreciate on the best of the Basie Big Band pressings, qualities that we find are often in short supply on lesser LPs (and, as a rule, those that have been remastered onto Heavy Vinyl). (more…)