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Live Review: The Legendary Count Basie Orchestra

18 October 2012 | 12:15 pm | Jake Dennis

“It took us a long time but we're here,” rejoiced Dennis Mackrel, musical director of The Legendary Count Basie Orchestra before the 17-piece big band began the final show of their first Australian tour in 40 years. Whistles and roaring applause greeted each stellar performance and each riveting solo during every musically spectacular song from less familiar instrumentals such as Half Moon Street to the band's much beloved arrangements of Silk Stockings and April In Paris. The excitement and energy in the room from an audience that included both the young and grey haired was as ardent as the band's musically muscular brass section, the back row of which kept the audience chuckling with their comedic antics during the show.

“You guys got it really going on,” praised the bandleader but as witnesses will agree, it was the band that deserved the commendation. The musicians' top class svelte solos, particularly from trumpeters Scottie Barnhart and Bruce Harris, saxophonist Doug Lawrence, and intense drummer Marion Felder (although every band member was equally superb) were lessons in jazz musicianship that Perth musos were privileged to experience live. Most of the tunes were upbeat and brassy but one exceptional tune, Soft As Velvet, conjured the film noir atmosphere of walking alone at night when rain makes the road gleam like black ink.

In the second half of the concert, powerful vocalist special guest Carmen Bradford, wearing earrings that sparkled like the ruby slippers from The Wizard Of Oz, gave a marvellous performance with the band that included the bluesy You Don't Know Me and a commanding rendition of the ballad Young & Foolish. It was a shame that she performed only four songs but nevertheless the orchestra kept the audience bopping throughout the night. The 90-minute concert concluded with a stellar showcase from the incomparable instrumentalists and their sincere promise to return “as soon as we can because we love you”. We can only hope their return will be sooner than later because their top class showmanship and musicianship is sure to inspire further generations of aspiring musicians.