Count Basie at Carnegie Hall (1981)
"I bear your dreams on my shoulders tonight. The great Count Basie—it's a pleasure to be working with him."- George Benson
Stars: Count Basie
Other Stars: Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan, George Benson, Joe Williams
Director: Dick Carter
MPAA Rating: Not RatedRun Time: 01h:46m:04s
Release Date: 2003-05-13
DVD ReviewCount Basie may not have been the greatest innovator in the world of jazz, and he may not have been the big bandleader at the top of the pantheon, but when it comes to musicians in the first tier, he certainly seems like the happiest. That elevated spirit pulses through this concert, recorded at Carnegie Hall on March 20, 1981, commemorating Basie's fiftieth year in show business. Even in his later years, he's still an inspired piano player and an obviously inspiring figure to the musicians around him.
The first section of the program, originally broadcast on the now-defunct CBS Cable, is a brief biography of Basie, hosted by Jon Hendricks. Born William Basie in New Jersey in 1904, the young musician became a protégé of Fats Waller, and formed his own band in Kansas City; his New York debut came in 1936. Some film work followed, and with the dissolution of the big band era, Basie put together a septet in the early 1950s; he kept at it, and his joie de vivre seems to have informed his musical work over the years. The documentary is intercut with rehearsal footage from tonight's extravaganza.
A big band concert in 1981 in New York obviously has a decidedly retro, museum feel to it. In recent memory, just thirty or so blocks south, Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen had come to their grisly ends at the Chelsea Hotel; and just three months prior to Basie's Carnegie gig, a little further up the west side, John Lennon was assassinated. So this is definitely a walk down memory lane, and it's not Basie at the height of his powers—he's incapacitated to the point that he needs a motorized wheelchair to get around.
But still, he sounds mighty fine. The set kicks off with Basie and his slimmed-down, reconstituted big band—they sound pretty good, though the trumpet soloist on There Will Never Be Another You is a pale imitation of Chet Baker. Soon vocalist Joe Williams, Basie's self-proclaimed "#1 son," joins the group for three songs, the best of which is probably All Right, Okay, You Win. Williams passes the baton to George Benson, whose guitar sounds great, but who just doesn't have the pipes to carry off the vocal on April in Paris, especially with Basie's powerful horn section.
Basie's signature tune, One O'Clock Jump, sounds terrific, and next on the guest list are Tony Bennett and his ill-fitting hairpiece. He sings three Duke Ellington tunes, and it may well be a sign of Basie's growing infirmity that the Count is replaced at the piano for Bennett's low-key cover of Sophisticated Lady. Sarah Vaughan is next on the hit parade, with an especially winning rendition of Fascinatin' Rhythm; less successful is yet another version of Send in the Clowns, a song that even in 1981 was already brutally overplayed. Moody's Mood for Love is a duet with Vaughan and Benson—in fact, through much of the last portion of the show, Basie is overshadowed by the vocalists, all four of whom return for the finale. Much more fun than that is the reprise of One O'Clock Jump over the credits, on which Basie and the band sound great, and Bennett and Vaughan cut a mean rug. The setlist:
Sweet Georgia Brown
In a Mellow Tone
There Will Never Be Another You
Every Day I Have the Blues
Goin' to Chicago
Well, All Right, Okay, You Win
Basie, Cup and Me
April in Paris
One O'Clock Jump
Don't Get Around Much Anymore
It Don't Mean a Thing
Send in the Clowns
Moody's Mood for Love
Roll 'Em Peter One O'Clock Jump
The DVD also preserves what seem to have been the slots for the commercial breaks in the original broadcast.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Video quality is a little too contrasty, but the transfer seems to have been done cleanly, with only minimal interference.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The legendary acoustics of Carnegie Hall—practice, practice, practice—are hardly done justice on this merely adequate transfer. Dynamics are limited, and the treble dominates, which means that Basie's ample brass section can blow the roof off the joint, at the expense of the fullness of the sound.
Audio Transfer Grade: C+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Music/Song Access with 22 cues and remote access
Extras Review: Count Basie tickling the ivories over the main menu is all that's offered for extras. Also, on the DVD case, Sarah Vaughan's name is misspelled, twice.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsA nice walk down memory lane, and a fitting tribute to one of the most beloved big band leaders, this concert is enlivened even further by the guest vocalists.
Jon Danziger 2003-06-04