The Count Basie Orchestra, the very same one that once counted such jazz luminaries as Lester Young, Billie Holiday, “Papa” Jo Jones, Sonny Payne, Thad Jones and the illustrious Count Basie himself in its collective, will perform at the Fox Theater this Saturday.
That a jazz big band like the Count Basie Orchestra has not only survived in our current era of digital all-access and short-attention spans but thrived — it will celebrate its 85th anniversary next year — almost feels like a minor miracle. But to the orchestra’s music director, Scotty Barnhart, who has been with the orchestra for 26 years as a trumpeter and six years as its current music director, has a very simple theory for the band’s longevity and consistency.
“It’s the quality of the music,” Barnhart said via phone interview from his home in Tallahassee, Fla. “It’s quality. Quality never dies. That’s the first and foremost thing that Basie and Ellington and all those guys were concerned with: quality. The best musicians and the best arrangers and the best music. If you do that, everything else will fall in place.”
“We’re not around because we wear nice suits on stage,” Barnhart said. “We’re around because we make people feel good and we can play our instruments. That’s why we’re still around.”
William James “Count” Basie passed away in 1984, but his orchestra has continued on as a potent reminder of the power of big bands. It’s a dynamic, palpable energy best felt when seeing them live. The music wasn't meant to be static. It was made to swing, and swing hard. We tend to forget that big bands primarily played music for people to dance to.
“(The Count Basie Orchestra has) had the greatest soloists and the greatest vocalists from Billie Holiday all the way up to Joe Williams, to now Carmen Bradford (since 1983 and chosen by Basie himself),” Barnhart said. “It’s always been a great, great orchestra, man, and Mr. Basie was a nice, nice affable guy and he was a great musician so everybody wanted to play with him and everybody loved coming to hear the orchestra. They still do.”
Every member of the big band is equal parts capable soloist and impeccable team player. Or as Barnhart described it, “one of the perfect representations of what a democracy looks like.”
“The music has always been accessible and it’s always made people feel good,” Barnhart said. “It’s always been accessible to everybody: from 3 to 103.”
And it’s that multi-generational appeal that keeps the orchestra’s legendary status going. Both for the audience and the orchestra itself, which employs musicians who are in their 20s.
“I think the music will always be around,” Barnhart, 54, said. “It’s just a matter of training the young people as much as we can because they’re so far removed from a lot of those men and women who created this music. So it’s up to people like myself who knew these people to pass on what I’ve learned from them to keep this thing going.”
The Count Basie Orchestra, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Fox Theater, 2001 H St. $30-$60; ticketfly.com, 324-1369.
Get down with Glitterfox
Also on Saturday will be an album release show for the Portland-based glam-folk band Glitterfox, formerly known as the Long Beach-based duo Bearcoon, at Ovation Theatre.
The group — guitarist Andrea Walker; singer, percussionist and Bakersfield native Solange Igoa; and new member, bassist Eric Stalker — will be celebrating the release of its new album "Fringe.” It's the first as Glitterfox but third for Walker and Igoa. It’s a solid evolution for the group, with Igoa on the occasional drums as well as lilting vocals. The song "Factory" is stunning and “Tell Me You’ll Be Mine” and “Portland” are my other personal favorites.
But a new name and musical direction aren’t the only changes: Walker and Igoa were recently married. So this album release party will also double as a belated wedding reception for family and friends who couldn’t make the couple’s Oregon nuptials in September.
“There’s this new element when we’re performing together,” Walker said. “It’s difficult to really put my finger on what it is, but maybe it’s just this deepened level of commitment to each other and to our future together. But it's definitely something that we both feel and I hope its translating to the audience as well.”
Also performing will be The Appletons a like-spirited Americana group centered around another married couple, Lauren and Kyle Appleton, making the event into a de facto rock ’n’ roll double date.
Glitterfox album release, with The Appletons, 7:30-10 p.m. Saturday, Ovation Theatre, 1622 19th St. $20; glitterfox.org, 634-0692.