The Basie Bonus

Last week we took our Mini Big Band up to the beautiful Harrogate Theatre, I’d been looking forward to it for ages, guttingly a few days before the performance I was struck down with the return of the ‘orrible bug I thought I’d got shut of two weeks previous.

Cue endless hours of steaming and epic consumption of ginger tea and chicken soup.  By D Day I felt that the lurgy gods and I had reached a fair compromise and that providing I didn’t go mad I’d be able to deliver the goods.

Our mini big band comprises seven of the most wonderfully talented musicians, each able to not only read the dots but also improvise at a seconds notice, which is just as well as by middle of the second half the old pipes were flagging or perhaps needed lagging.   I looked at the next song on the list – a massive yet delicate and tricky ballad and thought – No I’m going to have to pass on this one so with the applause still in the air from the last number I turned to the band and asked for help.  Whilst I explained to the audience that I was going to take a moment to regroup said pipes, the chaps hatched a plan, taking all of 12 seconds to decide on Secret Love in Eb.

Here’s the thing with seven musicians on stage you’ll appreciate it’s tricky to expect them to perform something together at a seconds notice without a proper written arrangement, but off they went into the great unknown pouring out the most wonderfully exhilarating music along the way.  The tune was bounced around the players like a big volley ball, and when not soloing the guys worked together adding impromptu backings wherever necessary.

It made me think of the early days of big band with the likes of Count Basie in Kansas leading his first proper band creating ‘head’ arrangements of tunes on the stand with not a sheet of music in sight.  Each night the arrangement would grow and grow becoming more and more polished.

Not surprisingly the audience went crazy – they absolutely loved it and so did I – but then who wouldn’t?  How often do we get to the opportunity to experience something so brilliantly spontaneous? From now on a slot will be left in the second half we’ll call it – The Basie Bonus.