Count Basie Orchestra's A VERY SWINGIN' BASIE CHRISTMAS! [2015]

The Count Basie Orchestra is celebrating it's 80th Anniversary this year and for the past thirty-one  years, they have been doing it without their namesake.  To my embarrassment, up to about a decade ago, the only two things I knew about Count Basie were that Stevie Wonder called him out in his 1976 song "Sir Duke" ("For there's Basie, Miller, Satchmo/And the king of all Sir Duke") and the Count himself appeared with his Orchestra in the 1974 film Blazing Saddles.
Now I know Basie helped bring Big Band swing music to several generations long after its peak in the Thirties and Forties, working with legendary vocalists like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett among many others through the years and recording more than 75 albums with the Count Basie Orchestra.  And I know that I have listened to A Very Swingin' Basie Christmas more than a dozen times since the first week of November and each time is better than the last.  The eleven traditonal songs are innovatively arranged and played with the band's rich, vibrant signature sound.  The guest vocalists seem to fit in the mix well without overpowering or being overpowered by their backing.  This may very well be the most important and significant disc ever featured here at The Hideaway and it truly deserves a much better fate.  The best that I can do is highly recommend it to anyone with ears and honestly pledge that it will get significant playtime each Holiday as long as there is breath in my lungs.

As further proof of my unexcuseable ignorance, the above album from 2008 has been in sitting in one of my two Christmas music drawers (see below) for an unknown number of years and though stripped of it's shrinkwrap, it was still sealed shut with that top piece of adhesive tape running across the top of the disc - you know what I'm talking about. The disc has since been opened and played a couple of times before being ripped to a CD-R along with A Very Swingin' Basie Christmas - they both fit on a single disc with a little discreet editing.
Also definitely worth seeking out is Tony Bennett's first Christmas music album from way back in 1968 titled Snowfall - The Tony Bennett Christmas Album.


  1. The Count! I don't know who did these arrangements but they swing hard. Dare we call it an "instant Christmas classic"?

    Now I gotta go listen to Sinatra at the Sands with the Count and Q.

    1. from the press release:

      The album also represents the return of the multi-Grammy winning Basie composer-arranger Sammy Nestico and the 2015 multi-Grammy winning arranger Gordon Goodwin. The results are blues-soaked, joy-filled holiday treats that will delight and warm the hearts of Basie die-hard fans and new fans alike!

      The orchestra brings Barnhart’s point home at the very beginning with the swaggering take of “Jingle Bells,” featuring a flinty trumpet solo from Bruce Harris and an arrangement from Nestico, who returns to the band after 35 years.

      Ellis Marsalis initiates “Let It Snow,” in a winning rendition that slowly gains momentum thanks to the superb rhythm section of drummer Clayton Cameron, bassist Marcus McClaurine, and guitarist Will Matthews. The song’s arranger, Kris Johnson also delivers a jovial trumpet solo.

      The treatment of “It’s the Holiday Season” becomes the perfect vehicle for Mathis’ lustrous tenor voice as it glides across Goodwin’s strutting chart. “When we had the first meeting to determine who would we wanted as special guests, I kept thinking Johnny Mathis,” Barnhart recalls, “As soon as the first day of the Christmas season starts, you hear his voice. I knew we had to get him.” Barnhart handles the arrangement for the classic, “Silent Night,” on which alto saxophonist Marshall McDonald articulates the hymnal melody, while the orchestra envelops him with dusky horn timbres. Another Nestico arrangement occurs on the transfixing reading of “Good ‘Swing’ Wenceslas,” which showcases Llew Matthews’ crisp, economical approach at the piano and Doug Lawrence’s sultry tenor saxophone solo.

      Ledisi, the dynamic R&B singer and Billboard #1 Urban Contemporary Artist of 2014 –renowned for her performance on the Oscar and Grammy-awarding winning song “Glory” from the critically acclaimed movie, Selma – lights up Goodwin’s sumptuous arrangement of “The Christmas Song.” The sensuous tone of Doug Lawrence’s tenor saxophone returns for yet another remarkable aside.

      “Little Drummer Boy” stomps to a quintessential Kansas City swing via Barnhart’s vivacious arrangement, which becomes a platform for succinct solos from pianist Matthews, baritone saxophonist Jay Brandford, piccolo player Cleave Guyton, Jr., drummer Cameron, and trumpeters Endre Rice and the arranger. Next, the brass heavy Goodwin-arranged version of “Sleigh Ride” shimmers with sanguine solos from bass trombonist Wendell Kelly, baritone saxophonist Jay Brandford, and trumpeter Barnhart.

      The Count Basie Orchestra’s long-time vocalist Carmen Bradford invigorates Frank Foster’s –another Basie alumni – magical arrangement of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” To close the album admirably, Barnhart takes center stage on his sparkling arrangement of “Winter Wonderland,” on which he demonstrates his buttery tone and a knack for crafting melodically savvy improvisations.

      As an encore, the orchestra sends heartfelt thoughts with the classic “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” only this time in a joy filled and swinging arrangement by Barnhart, featuring Ellis Marsalis on piano and tenor saxophonist Plas Johnson, with Marsalis concluding the album with Basie’s signature “plink-plink-plink” piano ending.

    2. Well no wonder! Nestico is a legend.