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First Time! The Count Meets the Duke

Count Basie & Duke Ellington

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Album Review

The 1999 remastering (Columbia-Legacy 65571) supercedes all previous editions, CD or vinyl, of the 1961 album First Time! The Count Meets the Duke, and not just because of the superior sound and the presence of five bonus tracks that add 27 minutes to the running time, although that's a big part of it. The sound is improved, making the original CD release seem like a copy of the LP, from the opening bars of the rollicking "Battle Royal," with that bass right up front. The Sonny Cohn and Ray Nance trumpet dialogue, and the Jimmy Hamilton clarinet and Budd Johnson tenor sax duet on "Take the A-Train" are more thickly textured and more "there" than on any previous incarnation, and Willie Cook's trumpet and Paul Gonsalves' tenor sax solo on "Corner Pocket" are gorgeously vivid. As important as anything else here, the closer sound captures the really hard, swinging nature of the performance on numbers like the bluesy "Segue in C" and "Jumpin' at the Woodside." The new notes, by bassist Aaron Bell and reissue co-producer Phil Schaap, also provide extraordinary insights into the making of this record — with the album recorded more as a genial get-together than an old-style battle of the bands, and packaging only awaiting the approval of Basie, the Count balked at the "Battle Royal" title and jacket design, and his manager, Teddy Reig, supposedly flushed the only copy of the latter down the men's room toilet, thus forcing a reconsideration of the whole concept. The result was a hastily designed cover for an obscurely titled album that Columbia was never fully behind in marketing — that it's lingered this long is, thus, even more of a testament to the power of the music and the good feelings from the sessions.

Biography

Born: 21 August 1904 in Red Bank, NJ

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s

Count Basie was among the most important bandleaders of the swing era. With the exception of a brief period in the early '50s, he led a big band from 1935 until his death almost 50 years later, and the band continued to perform after he died. Basie's orchestra was characterized by a light, swinging rhythm section that he led from the piano, lively ensemble work, and generous soloing. Basie was not a composer like Duke Ellington or an important...
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First Time! The Count Meets the Duke, Count Basie
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