Paul Lacey takes us Back To Basie

A new big band pays tribute to the Count's golden era.

The sounds of The Atomic Mr. Basie filled London's 100 Club on Wednesday 24 October 2001 as The Back To Basie Big Band faithfully rendered tunes from The Count's great fifties repertoire. A full 17-piece orchestra meant that justice was both seen and done to some seriously swinging numbers.

Back To Basie Big Band
The full glory of The Back to Basie Big Band

The Man With The Plan this time is trumpeter Paul Lacey. After long on-the-road discussions with trombonist Ian Bateman, they decided that a band was needed to play those great songs from April In Paris, The Atomic Mr. Basie, Live At The Sands and other classic albums. Ian decided that Paul was just the man for the job.

Incredibly, Lacey had not heard of Colin Skinner, whose own band Skin Deep had already ploughed the same musical furrow. But when he was putting the band together, Skinner's was the first name that came up for the lead alto chair. Lacey also included long-time associates Bateman and saxophonist Robert Fowler.

As always, there were other familiar faces in the line-up. Echoes of Ellington fans could see trumpeter Mike Lovatt (who has actually played with Quincy Jones), tenor saxman Alex Garnett and the baritone sax of Jay Craig.

The first set kicked off with the classic Moten Swing. Dating from the thirties when Bennie and Bernie Moten wrote it, the number gently swung along with occasional forte punctuation from the brass. Kansas City Jump and Easy Money proved to be highly danceable tunes, before the twin home runs of Splanky and Shiny Stockings were hit in the middle of the set.

A departure from the traditional swing repertoire arrived with Ray Charles' I Can't Stop Loving You, taken at a relaxed pace with plenty of room for the trumpets to blow the melody along. The first set ended with Blues In Hoss's Flat, a tune that appears on Skin Deep's 1995 CD, and another loud and swinging number.

Alex Garnett
Alex Garnett lets rip

From the trumpet section on the top tier of the stage, Paul Lacey top and tailed each number with some background information on the composer, arranger and origin of the tune.

Whether it was the repertoire or just the time to warm up, the second set really trumped the first in terms of swingability. A very fast Magic Flea skipped across the room, chased by a Live At The Sands arrangement of All Of Me.

Li'l Darlin'. What can you say? This was a warm coat you could wear on a winter's evening to keep out the cold. The layered saxophones wrapped themselves around the listener in a gentle embrace of melody and rhythm, while Malcolm Harrison's guitar added a glistening little arpeggio. At the end, Paul Lacey said "Well you won't hear a better version of that" and no-one was in the mood to disagree.

"Here's an old one," he said, before counting the band in to Corner Pocket, the swinging Freddie Green number. This appeared in a section when several of the Neal Hefti classics, such as Flight Of The Foo Birds, Kid From Red Bank and the like-sounding Whirly-Bird, were being aired.

Has there been a more aptly-titled tune than Way Out Basie? The man certainly was, and the orchestra took him there with great style on this number. The other giant of jazz got an outing when Nick Dawson's thoughtful piano led the orchestra into Duke Ellington's In A Mellotone.

Robert Fowler
Robert Fowler

It is some tribute to the range of classics that Basie assembled during his career that all of these songs could have been played, and yet there was still room for two absolute must-hears at the end. First up was his theme tune One O'Clock Jump, and you won't hear many better versions these days than the one served up by B2B. Robert Fowler took the lead sax solo, and Colin Skinner made sure the band was right behind him.

The final serving of this swing supper was, perhaps inevitably, Jumping At The Woodside. From the unmistakable piano intro, the band defeated all but the hardiest Balboa-ers and Shim-Shammers with a version that made 'uptempo' sound pedestrian. The well-deserved applause, stomping and yelling at the end of the set was met with a reprise before the orchestra called it a night.

The full band on this debut night for the Back To Basie Big Band was: 

Saxophones: Colin Skinner (alto), Mark Crooks (alto), Alex Garnett (tenor), Robert Fowler (tenor), Jay Craig (baritone).
Andy Wood, Gordon Campbell, Ian Bateman, Richard Henry.
Paul Lacey, Mike Lovatt, Danny Marsden, Mally Baxter.
Rhythm section:
Bobby Worth (drums), Nick Dawson (piano), Malcolm Harrison (guitar), John Rees-Jones (double bass)

The selections played were:

Set No. First Set Second Set
1. Moten Swing Magic Flea
2. Kansas City Jump All Of Me
3. Easy Money April in Paris
4. That Warm Feeling Flight Of The Foo Birds
5. Splanky Way Out Basie
6. Jessica's Day In A Mellotone
7. Shiny Stockings The Kid From Red Bank
8. Easy Street Li'l Darlin'
9. I Can't Stop Loving You Corner Pocket
10. After Supper Whirly-Bird
11. Blues In Hoss's Flat One O'Clock jump
12.   Jumping At The Woodside

Andrew Winton October 2001.

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