Count Basie in Fresno - April 24, 1959
Fresno, California isn't exactly the jazz center of the world, but we do have this album as our claim to fame. Released on CD in the late 80's from a label out of Denmark, this session captures the famed "New Testament" Basie big band in full swing at Downtown Fresno's Rainbow Ballroom. This was the first Count Basie album I picked up (for obvious reasons, considering my hometown) and I still count it as my favorite from this era of Basie. All the great names are there, Thad Jones, Joe Newman, Al Grey, Benny Powell, Frank Foster, Frank Wess, Billy Mitchell, Freddie Green, Sonny Payne, and of course the Count. The charts are standard Basie fare from the era, with arrangements by Neil Hefti and Quincy Jones dominating. The soloists are all "on" and the recording quality and band mix is perhaps the best I've EVER heard on a live big band record. All of the instruments are clearly audible, even Freddie Green and bassist Eddie Jones. Yet it's not over mic'ed, and the mix has a nice room sound, and live feel too it. You can hear the sections of the band blend together, as in real life, not on the sound board. I've since checked out many of the "real" Roulette studio recordings of this era, and they lack that certain special quality that this Fresno concert has. I've also talked with at least one person who reports to have been in the crowd at the Rainbow for the concert in 1959, though perhaps some more research is in order. I have heard second hand from that other Fresno old timers claim this concert didn't take place in Fresno in 1959, so I'll report back with any more info if I can.