“Blues in Hoss’ Flat” (1958) Count Basie

“Blues in Hoss’ Flat”

Composed and arranged by Frank Foster.

Recorded by Count Basie and His Orchestra for Roulette on April 28, 1958 in New York City.

William J. “Count” Basie, piano, directing: Eugene “Snooky” Young, first trumpet; Wendell Culley, Thaddeus “Thad” Jones, Joe Newman, trumpets; Henry Coker, Al Grey, Benny Powell, trombones; Marshal Royal, first alto saxophone; Frank Wess, alto saxophone; Frank Foster and Billy Mitchell, tenor saxophones; Charlie Fowlkes, baritone saxophone; Freddie Green, guitar; Eddie Jones, bass; Percival “Sonny” Payne, drums.

The story:

Count Basie, like most of the bandleaders who had lived through the glory days of the swing era, had to confront some harsh realities as the 1950s began. Audiences of young people who had once flocked to hear and dance to his band, were now staying at home at night, to raise their children and watch television. Vocalists, like Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, and Peggy Lee, who had been featured attractions with big bands, were now the headliners. Big bands in the 1950s were not often even featured attractions because they were so expensive. Jazz had moved away from the dancing rhythms of swing to the jagged rhythms and often racing tempos of bebop.

Beyond that, Basie, like all bandleaders, was not immune to the vicissitudes of the band business. In order to keep any big band operating profitably, a number of business matters have to be watched carefully. Specifically, someone has to be making sure the income of the band exceeds expenses most, if not all of the time. All bandleaders learned soon that leading a band on the road is a high-risk activity. Many factors are simply beyond the control of the bandleader, his booking agent, or the promoters who present the band. If the weekly income does not exceed expenses regularly, the bandleader can soon find himself engulfed in a quagmire of debt. In essence, this happened to Basie in late 1949 and early 1950. He was forced to disband the organization he had led since the mid-1930s. The Basie band from that period thereafter became known as the “Old Testament” band.

After casting about for some sixteen months with a group of seven or eight musicians, Basie reformed a new big band in the spring of 1951. It was not at all certain if the band would last beyond the engagements that Basie’s agent had lined-up. Initially, they were few and far between. Finally, in the spring of 1952, Basie secured a string of engagements with his band supporting vocalist Billy Eckstine. By July, he was back in New York, recording for Normal Granz’s Clef label, and commencing what would become a very successful series of engagements at Birdland, a jazz club, located at 1678 Broadway, in Manhattan, that would last intermittently throughout the 1950s. Many still important radio broadcasts of the Basie band emanated from Birdland in the early 1950s. They helped keep Basie’s name and music before at least the small segment of the public seeking his brand of musical entertainment. With Birdland as the band’s home base, and some gigs on the road as a part of Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic packages, Basie was able to gradually build a financial base that would ensure the continuing existence of the band, at least for the short-term future. Slowly throughout 1953, the band’s engagement book accumulated more dates.

1954 saw the Basie band, now known as the “New Testament” band, complete its first successful tour of Europe, where audiences were jazz-hungry and enthusiastic. By the end of 1954, vocalist Joe Williams had joined Basie, and he proved to be a strong commercial asset, both in front of audiences and on records. Finally, after three years, the “New Testament” Basie band was well and truly established. (Above left: Basie, foreground. The trumpeter at left behind him is Joe Newman; the trombonist is Henry Coker.)

The music: 

A concise, general description of “Blues in Hoss’ Flat” was provided by Bill Kirchner in his excellent liner notes to the Smithsonian collection of big band jazz called Big Band Renaissance, page 23. This set of recordings was issued in 1995. “This irresistible groover by Frank Foster (1928-2011), falls into a distinctive genre of composition, the blues in D-flat, which also comprises such jazz staples as “One O’Clock Jump,” “Woodchopper’s Ball,” and “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be.” The blues in this key have a special quality that is hard to define but nonetheless unmistakable in effect, and many jazz bands–especially black bands–have used this quality to advantage for decades. Frank Foster was one of the key architects of the Basie revival (of the 1950s), as well as an important soloist from 1953-1964. “Blues in Hoss’ Flat,” along with his classic “Shiny

The Basie band late 1958; L-R: Eddie Jones, Freddie Green, Sonny Payne, Basie, Thad Jones, Billy Mitchell, Henry Coker, Snooky Young, Frank Wess, Al Grey, Wendell Culley, Marshal Royal, Joe Newman, Benny Powell, Frank Foster, Charlie Fowlkes.

Stockings,” stands as one of his best-written contributions, and its charms are self-evident. Credit is also due to the plunger-muted trumpet solo of Joe Newman, and the shouting trombone of Henry Coker. ‘Hoss,’ by the way, was Hoss Allen, a Nashville disc jockey.”

Also notable in this performance is the shuffle rhythm early on, and the powerful but precise ensemble sound of the Basie band as a whole. The saxophone section, under the superb lead of alto Marshal Royal, with considerable help from Charlie Fowlkes on baritone, conducts a blues dialog with Joe Newman’s solo trumpet. The brass get more intense behind Henry Coker’s open trombone.

After the initial solos, listen to how the dynamic level of the band drops, and then builds rhythmically and dynamically to an explosive climax. First trumpeter Snooky Young is particularly effective leading the brass in their shout passages.

His brilliant sound and aggressive phrasing are to be savored. After the fireworks, things quiet down again, and Mr. Newman returns for a few parting thoughts on his plunger-muted trumpet.(Above right:Joe Newman-photo Chuck Stewart.)

This recording is a great example of what the Basie band of the late 1950s was all about: excellent arrangements, played with precision and verve by a band of virtuoso musicians, and strong, colorful jazz solos. Of course, the bedrock on which all of this rests was the rhythm section, led by Basie himself. They were simply the quintessence of swing. And the blues, always, was the primary language of the Basie band.

One final note: William James Basie acquired the title “Count,” when he had some business cards made while he was in Kansas City, Missouri in the late 1920s. They read: Count Basie–Beware the Count is Here.

This recording was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

P.S. Per Mark Cantor’s suggestion, here is Jerry Lewis’s wonderful pantomime to “Blues in Hoss’ Flat,” from his film The Errand Boy.  

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  1. A wonderful recording, no doubt about it. But taking it one step beyond “just wonderful music,” I suggest that anyone reading Mike’s blog navigate to YouTube, and search for “Jerry Lewis Count Basie The Errand Boy” in which Lewis does an amazing pantomime to this recording.

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