For those who aren't already familiar with the Legendary Count Basie Orchestra, flash back to Kansas City, Mo., in 1935: An understated man from south Jersey who had always dreamed of life on the road started a band. One year later, William "Count" Basie, now leader of "the swingingest band in all the land," had forever changed the face of what many call America's only art form. Basie would go on to see the world many times over.
A lot of talented musicians have come and gone since then -- the Count himself passed away in 1984 -- but that doesn't mean his band can't still swing like it's 1935. They've won 17 Grammys and 20 Downbeat and JazzTimes polls, more than any other big band in jazz, and they're about to celebrate their 75th anniversary. Past members include some of jazz's true greats, including Lester Young, Joe Williams, Buck Clayton and many others.
Bill Hughes, trombonist and director of the Legendary Count Basie Orchestra, was born in Dallas in 1930. He joined the orchestra in 1953 and assumed its leadership after the 2003 passing of Grover Mitchell, who had directed the band since 1995. Evidently, directing Basie's band is like a Supreme Court appointment -- you're there for life if you want to be.
Hughes is a self-styled rarity in jazz, having eschewed numerous opportunities to gain personal celebrity in favor of a career dedicated largely to the Count Basie Orchestra. His only deviation from that path has been to spend time with his family, so the band is clearly in his blood. Someone who has been there so long is bound to interpret Basie's vision in just the right way, and -- just as important -- keep things lively.
T. Loper is a writer for the San Diego music blog Owl and Bear.