WA Youth Jazz Orchestra pay tribute to Count Bassie and Charles Mingus

WA Youth Jazz Orchestra

 Celebrating the Greats: 100th Birthday of Basie Band & Charles Mingus| Downstairs at the Maj | 15 October 2022 | ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 

The WA Youth Jazz Orchestra has delivered a two-night celebration of the work of the Count Bassie Orchestra and jazz great Charles Mingus, displaying the wealth of talent among their own ranks.

This year is the 100th birthday celebration of legendary bassist and composer Charles Mingus, while many seminal members of the Count Bassie Orchestra were also born the same year.

Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, Joe Newman, Frank Wess and Ernie Wilkins were all born in 1922, contributing iconic arrangements and solos on some of the Orchestra’s most famous recordings.

The celebration included performances from two of the organisation’s youth orchestras. The Minter Ellison Monday Night Orchestra, who provided the first set of the evening, followed by the St John of God Health Care Tuesday Night Orchestra.

Proceedings opened up with Freckle Face, a song composed by Sammy Nestico for the Count Basie Orchestra’s 1975 album Basie Big Band. It’s a tune that traverses different emotions, at times intense and foreboding, before moving into mellower tones.

Singer Lucinda Marley joined the action providing vocals for the well-known tunes Honeysuckle Rose and Sunny Side of the Street.

Honeysuckle Rose was written by jazz great Fats Waller, with lyrics by Andy Razaf, over the years it’s been recorded by many of the greats including Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Sarah Vaugan and Louis Armstrong. Marley’s rendition was simply delightful, as was her take on Sunny Side of the Street. 

Cute was another fine example of the kind of music the Count Basie Orchestra played, sprightly, fast-paced and giving spots for different members of the band to shine. Throughout the set there were highlights from pianist Valentina Macias, bassist Finn McKibbin, drummer Jack Nankivell and many others.

The work of Charles Mingus was first highlighted via a performance of Haitian Fight Song, which first featured on the artist’s 1957 album The Clown. Mingus described the song as being one about “prejudice, hate and persecution, and how unfair it is.”

The tune giving bassist Finn McKibbin a moment to show his talents, while swirling brass and wild squeals quickly dominate the proceedings, with an epic tune that takes listeners on a journey.

Following the death of saxophonist Lester Young in 1959, Mingus wrote an elegy for his friend titled Goodbye Pork Hat. It was a great choice, a slow and sorrowful elegy that provided great contrast to the more upbeat numbers.

Vocalist Lucinda Marley returned the stage for a rousing rendition of Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall.      

After a short break the show returned with a change of musicians, switching from the younger musicians of the Monday Night Orchestra to the slightly older members of the Tuesday night crew.

They were joined by vocalist Sofie Kerr, (pictured top), who delivered Don’t Be That Way, followed by Tea for Two. Kerr had impeccable vocals which could be crisply heard above the powerhouse orchestra.

The celbration continued with the Flight of the Foo Birds, first recorded on Count Basie’s 1958 release The Atomic Mr. Bassie. A second song written by Neal Hefti followed, Teddie the Toad made its debut on the same album.       

Kerr returned to perform Deed I Do, and stayed on for Nostalgia in Times Square, her voice becoming an additional instrument in complex and captivating Mingus composition.

Perth’s well known for its plethora of jazz talent, and with these talented younger musicians waiting in the wings, the future looks very bright.

Graeme Watson 

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