Count Basie Orchestra kicks off jazz festival

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Kalyn Hayslett, Verge Reporter

Audience members will experience the uncontrollable swaying, shaking and grooving sounds of the “swingingest band in all the land” as the Count Basie Orchestra, perform live jazz music transforming the Dvorak Concert Hall in Doudna Fine Arts Center into a ’30s big band concert.

The 18 member jazz orchestra will jump start the 56th Annual EIU Jazz Festival at 7: 30 p.m. Friday along with a performance from the EIU Jazz Ensemble.

“Count Basie was a genius at arranging music, to a point where the sound was so infectious that once the audience hears it they will be dancing before they know it. That effect of our music on the audience is what makes us the ‘swingingest’,” Scotty Barnhart, bandleader of the Count Basie Orchestra, said.

The Count Basie Orchestra will not only perform but also teach different clinics for Eastern and high school musicians all day Saturday.

“The heartbeat of the jazz festival is to bring in top-notch jazz musicians that can be inspiration to young musicians,” Daniel Crews, director of patron affairs, said.

Each session there will be performances by several jazz bands and various opportunities for students to gain hands-on experiences with professionals.

“Nothing is off limits the students will learn everything from professionalism to forming music more stylistically but I mainly want them to remember Jazz is all about togetherness,” Barnhart said.

“Jazz is a communal music,” Barnhart said. “You need each other, so appreciate the people playing next to you and behind you because it is a great honor to play with other people.”

The hallmark quality of jazz music is its improvisation.

“Everything is brand new in that moment,” Barnhart said. “At any second a new precedent can be set causing you to hear something that has never been heard before which builds great anticipation.”

The audience will go along on a journey with the musician’s note by note combining Basie’s influence as well as building on with different combinations and sounds in their solos.

Years of trial and error allowed Count Basie to form and refine a sound of swing jazz imitating the Big Band era which has been praised for 80 years.

This work ethic earned him  17 Grammy awards and numerous Down Beat magazine awards even after his death about 30 years ago.

The Orchestra originated in 1935 in Kansas City, which during the ‘30s was the “main stomping grounds for jazz musicians.”

Count Basie who worked diligently as a pianist touring with several musicians at a very young age slowly building his reputation, networking and fine toning his skills.

Basie oozed shear talent: connecting great musicians together, composing music and performing for audience enjoyment are the key factors that helped him form the legendary Basie Orchestra.

Crews said Basie found a lot of success with his innovation. His skill formed the band into a standard for other Jazz bands to aspire to become.

Knowing when to place the musician’s solos, mastering the trombone and trumpet sections while having harmony with both slow and fast tempos is a part of Basie’s signature.

However, it is his reputation that personifies him.

“He is a beautiful man,” Barnhart said. “He radiated peace, brotherhood, joy and happiness which are all things that makes anybody beautiful.”

The legendary Count Basie is a tough act to follow, not only as a musician, but as a bandleader as well.

The pressure of keeping Basie’s legacy, maintaining professionalism and managing 18 varying personalities is the balancing act of a bandleader, but Barnhart is reminded of Basie’s philosophy.

“Treat them like human beings first then musicians because once they’re happy you can get the sound you wanted and that’s how they will build discipline,” Barnhart said. “Once they’re happy everything will be fine.”

Their main goal is for the audience to close their eyes and imagine Basie playing.

The quality of the sound and being able to feel his spirit within the songs is what unifies the band members and allows them to build a family bond.

Tickets can be purchased at the Doudna box office. Student tickets are $10 and general admission tickets are $20.

Kalyn Hayslett can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]