“Sent for You Yesterday”
Composed by Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing and Eddie Durham; arranged by Eddie Durham.
Recorded by Count Basie and His Orchestra live on April 2, 1939 from the Columbia Dance Hour – CBS Radio; location unknown.
William J. “Count” Basie, piano, directing: Ed Lewis, first trumpet; Shad Collins, Wilbur “Buck” Clayton, Harry “Sweets” Edison, trumpets; Benny Morton, Dicky Wells and Dan Minor, trombones; Earle (Erle) Warren, first alto saxophone; Lester Young, tenor saxophone and clarinet; George “Buddy” Tate, tenor saxophone; Ronald “Jack” Washington, baritone saxophone; Freddie Green, guitar; Walter Page, bass; Jo Jones, drums. Jimmy Rushing, vocal.
The story: By the spring of 1939, Count Basie and his band had been in New York for about 16 months. This period had been one of musical success on many levels, but of only marginal commercial success. The man who, more than anyone other than Basie himself, guided the band then was John Hammond. Hammond was a controversial person during the swing era because he was opinionated, on occasion was guilty of conflicts of interest (he produced records, and then wrote reviews of the records he had produced), was arrogant, and could be pushy. On the other hand, he was independently wealthy (a member of the Vanderbilt family), and never took financial advantage of any artist. Indeed, he never charged any artist a management fee, even though he was directly responsible for many musicians getting excellent gigs. This made him unique because the business of the swing era was dominated by assertive vulgarians who had little regard for such niceties as ethics or respect for other human beings. Their concern was singular – money. They saw the musicians they interacted with as naive children who rarely cared enough about their business to know what was going on, much less to check-up on their managers. Consequently, abuses of artists were rampant.
Count Basie did not have that problem. But he had other problems. In essence, when Basie arrived in Manhattan at the end of 1936 with his band, he was the new kid in town, even though by then he had been in show business for 15 years. Those years had been spent mostly touring with various acts and bands, and then in Kansas City. Basie’s time in Kansas City was largely spent with him leading small bands that were noted for the simplicity and swing of their music. Riffs played atop a flowing swing rhythm, and lots of jazz solos were Basie’s modus operandi.
After John Hammond “discovered” Basie by listening to his music on his car radio as he traveled about in 1936, he (Hammond) went to Kansas City to meet Basie, and then began a large-scale effort to get Basie to enlarge his band to swing era proportions (thirteen pieces was the norm in the mid-1930s), and to facilitate whatever business relationships were needed to get the band work. This led to agent Willard Alexander, and booking agency MCA representing the Basie band. (They also represented Benny Goodman. Hammond and BG were associates, though their relationship was rocky. Despite that, Goodman would marry Hammond’s sister Alice in 1942.) But unlike the Goodman band, the Basie band did not have a phalanx of arrangers constantly preparing new music for it; they did not have a sponsored network radio show to constantly promote their music to a wide public (and pay them handsomely); and they were black in rigidly Jim Crow America.
The MCA/Alexander/Hammond management team booked the Basie band into the famous Roseland Ballroom in New York for a four week gig that started on Christmas Eve, 1936. Roseland was a midtown Manhattan ballroom where white dancers went to try out the latest dance steps. Fletcher Henderson had been successful there years before, but Henderson’s music library was large, and it included a wide range of dance music, including waltzes and tangos. Basie had a relatively small music library, and he certainly did not have arrangements to accommodate a variety of dance steps. The Basie band struggled through the gig, and received a brutally negative review from George T. Simon of Metronome magazine. This did not enhance the fledgling Basie band’s chances for survival.
Evidence of Basie’s commercial status even a year and a half later, in mid-1938, is to be found in these statistics from the Al-Dorn/Castle Rock Ballroom at Dorney Park, Allentown, Pennsylvania. In the spring of that year, that ballroom presented “name” bands only on Thursdays because the bands could be purchased for less on Thursdays than on weekends or holidays. Benny Goodman was booked there on May 12 for a guarantee of $1,250.00. (Multiply by 15 to get the value in today’s dollars.) BG drew 1327 paid admissions at $1.10 each, and 110 comps. Basie was there on June 9 for a guarantee of $250. He drew 342 paid admissions at $.50, and 30 comps. The ballroom reported a loss of $79.09 for that night. (1)
Basie’s entry into the mainstream ( i.e. white) swing market occurred gradually over a period of years. This process was slowed by John Hammond’s insistence that the Basie band stick with their riff-based head arrangements and lots of jazz solos, often to the exclusion of dance arrangements of current pop tunes or standards. This music policy thrilled the small percentage of dancers who loved jazz, but left the vast majority who wanted to dance cheek-to-cheek, cold. Basie himself, who wanted very much to be a successful bandleader, was caught in the middle. Fortunately, his legendary equanimity was equaled by his patience and determination to succeed. (2)
The music: This performance, recorded from a radio broadcast by the legendary Bill Savory, is a part of the recently issued Mosaic set of CDs entitled: The Savory Collection 1935-1940. The story of Bill Savory and his career is told in the 36-page 12 x 12 inch booklet that accompanies the recordings. Anyone who is interested in the history of jazz should obtain this set of CDs. In addition to a good sampling of the cache of off-the-air recordings made by Bill Savory (six CDs worth), the notes on the music, vintage photos, and discographies that are also in the booklet make this a very valuable historical document. And all of this is before we even discuss the music presented in the set, which is an excellent cross-section of swinging bands of various sizes.
This performance of the blues “Sent for You Yesterday,” showcases the 1939 Basie band beautifully.(3) Basie plays the band on, then the saxophones play a descending phrase that will recur throughout the tune. The brass set forth the melody in a musical conversation with lead alto saxophonist Earle Warren. Warren’s sound is large, rich and robust. His swirling cascade of notes at the end of his solo is tart and tasty. Basie takes a characteristic solo with the brass oo-ahing behind him. George “Buddy” Tate, successor to Herschel Evans who had died of a cardiac condition only a few weeks before this performance, continues the Texas tenor tradition established by Evans with a soulful chorus of blues.
Then the centerpiece of the performance – two choruses of blues sung by Jimmy Rushing. “Rush,” as he was known in the Basie band, had developed his singing style before effective sound amplification systems had been developed. Consequently, he projected his ringing tenor voice in a most powerful way. Many called him a blues shouter, though his approach to singing was always more nuanced than simple shouting. Rushing, Basie and Eddie Durham cobbled this blues together when they were members of the Bennie Moten band in 1930, and it was recorded then under the title “That Too, Do.” Lester Young can be heard playing delicate clarinet obbligati behind Rushing’s singing, probably assisted by Buck Clayton on muted trumpet.
The final soloist heard is trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison. Edison was one of a triumverate of technically gifted young trumpeters who knew each other well, and came on the swing scene in the late 1930s at about the same time, the other two being Charlie Shavers and Dizzy Gillespie. Edison joined the Basie soon after a battle of music in early 1938 between the Basie band and Lucky Millinder’s at a dance venue in Baltimore. Basie heard what Edison could do, and persuaded him to join his band. He would remain there until 1950, and be one of Basie’s most featured soloists. He also returned as a guest soloist with the Basie band many times after that.
Edison went into studio work in Hollywood in the 1950s, and can be heard on innumerable Frank Sinatra recordings playing behind Frank using a Harmon mute, generally in a minimalist (and humorous) fashion. He also did a wide array of other work in the studios from the 1950s into the 1980s, but also continued performing as a jazz soloist.
The nickname “Sweets” was bestowed upon Edison by Lester Young. Edison himself explained that this was because when he first joined Basie, he wanted to “play pretty all the time,” and his playing struck Young as sweet music. Edison also revealed how sidemen in the early Basie band were assigned and then un-assigned solos: Basie assigned solos to the musicians he thought would play them best. “But if you didn’t swing, Basie would take the solo away from you and give it to someone else. Prez (Young) had a bell that he would ring, and that was the cue that the solo was not for you.” (4)
Here is an interview that Monk Rowe did with Sweets in 1995. In it, Edison talks about the musical atmosphere of the swing era, the musical hot house Harlem was then, musical individuality in jazz, the early Basie band, and playing with and for singers, among other topics.
(1) Benny Goodman — Wrappin’ It Up by D. Russell Connor (1996), 17-18. Basie’s management team soon after this, by using some innovative techniques (and some of Hammond’s money), got the band what turned out to be a multi-month gig at the Famous Door, a club on Manhattan’s west 52nd Street. The club itself was ill-suited to a big band, it was small and cramped. But it had a CBS radio wire to broadcast the Basie band frequently (installed at the expense of Hammond), and air-conditioning (installed at the expense of Hammond), so patrons would not swelter during the hot and humid summer months. When the Basie band left the Famous Door in November, jazz and dance fans around the USA knew who they were.
(2) Also of inestimable help were the arrangements of Eddie Durham, a long-time friend and sometime musical associate of Basie’s. He worked for Basie from the summer of 1937 until the summer of 1938, and his arrangements did much to create a strong musical identity for the early Basie band.
(3) Basie recorded “Sent for You Yesterday” for Decca on February 16, 1938.
(4) The World of Count Basie by Stanley Dance (1980), 102-103.
This recording was transferred from the original Bill Savory disk and first digitally remastered by Doug Pomeroy. I have done some additional digital remastering to the recording presented here.