Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography of Count Basie [Paperback] Review

Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography of Count Basie [Paperback]This is a particularly useful book if you know basie, Basieism and what is happening already. Count Basie never was the kind of person you would expect to write a tell all, or note how much reefer was being smoked like Buck Clayton did in his memoir, or spill the inside dope on John Hammond as a number of Basieites have in their books and interviews.

Basie has always been a cool professional, concerned with handling the business side, keeping everybody happy, and keeping the ship above the water.He goes by the old watchword from the 50s we used to have "Maintain your cool at all times."

Thus we get a memoir that has a lot of places and names in it, a lot about working in the band, but very little that is going to surprise or wow anyone who isn't into the Basie story. He stays pretty close to the vest, and presents a very easy going story.

One example ofhow this book smoothes over conflict and controversy and makes everything seem smoother than the truth is how it treats the departure of Claude Fiddler Williams from the Basie Band in 1937. While the ignorant think Freddie Green was Basie's only guitarist, Williams was the band's first guitarist--and he was Downbeat guitarist of the year that year--and also played hot jazz fiddle solos with the band. Only the Live at the Chatterbox recording lets you hear his brilliant fiddling.

When the band arrived in New York, John Hammond who acted like manager, director, and overlord over the band for years, decided the Fiddler's violin was too "country" and replaced him with Freddie Green who was playing in a New York Club when Basie arrived in the Apple.

Williams who lived until last year (2004) always said John Hammond fired him, although he says he felt grateful in the end because his career as an independent fiddle soloist would have never taken off had he stayed with Basie.In this book, Basie says that he and Williams came to a friendly parting of the ways that let Williams become independent.There is lots of smoothed over stuff like this.

To be fair, this was more or less of an interview with an aging Basie with little attempt to research things. Many things get hazy or are remember conveniently as the years pass on, as I am coming to realize myself as I enter my late 50s.

The book also suffers from Albert Murray's interviewing. Murray never presents his credentials in his appearances as an "expert" on Jazz.In fact he is a retired Air Force General and has never been a musician, a musicologist, or anything professionally associated with music.He's imposed his own rather conservative viewpoint on Jazz as the all American capitalist product, rather than an expression of Black culture, oppression, and a struggle to Africanize music. Rather, Murray priviledges a progression to take Jazz closer to the forms of European classical music. So, it is no surprise that Murray isn't going to try to ferret out controversy, difficult truthes, or unconventional behavior, particularly with a man as cool and under control as Bill Basie.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of information here that exists nowhere else. Sadly, no one has written a serious biography of Basie, or a serious study of his music save for the section on him in Gunter Schuller's great book on Swing. Until that takes place, this is the book.

Like most books of this kind, the part about Basie's life before he became famous, growing up, learning his chops on piano in New York, travelling with TOBA shows, hooking up with Rushing, then with the Blue Devils, then with Moten, are the most interesting and readable parts of this book.Similarly, the book speeds up and summarizes too quickly the closer it gets to the time the interviews took place.

One thing is nice is the list of who took what solo on some of the Old Testament sides.

Still, Basie is important enough for every true Jazz lover, or at least every true swing lover, to own this book, particularly as a cheap used edition can be obtained for little!

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