I spent last evening listening again to a remastered CD of Count Basie's April in Paris. The Basie band of 1955-56 still sounds like musical equivalent of a big ol' Cadillac from the same period. The band is huge, chrome-y, smooth and solid.
I've always known that Frank Foster and Frank Wess (tenor saxes) were way out front on the album, pulling the entire band's sound. You can hear them clearly above everyone else, and their paired styles produced sensational results.
But listening to the album again carefully through a DAC 1 digital converter--which extracts much more information from a CD and displays it through your speakers--I realized for the first time how critical Charlie Fowlkes on baritone sax was to the band's overall sound.
What an anchor! Fowlkes' rock solid baritone on the album's title track is thick and spry--punching out the bottom notes cleanly and crisply
For those who know the album well, here is Basie talking about the title track's recording in Albert Murray's Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography of Count Basie:
"During the two day session on which we made Everday I Have the Blues, we also did that band's first best-selling instrumental. In fact, I don't think we have ever had an instrumental that became so popular so quick and has remained such a big crowd pleaser as Wild Bill Davis's arrangement of April in Paris.
Actually Wild Bill, who had his group in Birdland [one of the most popular New York jazz clubs of the 50s] while we were in there that summer  was supposed to be in on that date. But something happened to the little truck he used to haul his organ around in, and lucky for us he didn't make it. He was supposed to play it with us as we had been doing it together at Birdland.
Now I'm not saying that I actually fixed his old wagon so that he couldn't get there. But it sure turned out to be a big break for us, so, as I told him, I'm glad it happened. Because we went right on and made April in Paris anyway, with the band using exactly the same arrangement he played on the organ with us as a special feature down in Birdland.
It was a big break for us because the band got a big hit. But if he had been there, it would have been mainly him. Because Wild Bill played it with a sound on that organ that was just unbelievable. The sound he got on that one instrument was as wide as a whole room, any room."
Instead, Charlie Fowlkes' baritone was the band's bottom end. Fowlkes really is underappreciated as a player and key element to the Basie sound, probably because he was overshadowed by Basie's great tenor men over the years.
Wax track: While April in Paris (both the track and the entire album) are classic, an even stronger example of Basie's magic--featuring the exact same band--was recorded live two years later in July 1957 at the Newport Jazz Festival. The track, One O'Clock Jump, features breathtaking solos by Lester Young, Illinois Jacquet and Roy Eldridge.
For my money, One O'Clock Jump better showcases Basie's swing style and energy level during this period, and the fact that it's live rather than in a studio adds an extra level of excitement.
This summer is the 50th anniversary of that recording, and the track can be found on the newly remastered and reissued Count Basie at Newport. The entire CD is hugely worthwhile. Or download the cut for a buck at iTunes. And while you're at it, download two other tracks from the same CD--Swingin' at Newport and Polka Dots and Moonbeams. You won't be sorry. This is the real deal--and what you would have heard if you had wandered into Birdland in the late 1950s. Amazing.
Wax clip: One O'Clock Jump had been Basie's theme song for years--until April in Paris became a bigger hit and replaced it. For a One O'Clock Jump comparison, take a look this clip by a different Basie band, with solos by Buddy DeFranco, Clark Terry and the great Wardell Gray (probably 1951). If your foot aint tappin', you aint breathin'. That's why they call it swing!