Melissa Harris-Perry: It's The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry.
Count Basie was among the most influential artists of the 20th century. The jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader is best known for his work with the Count Basie Orchestra and his signature swing king sound transformed the jazz landscape. In 1958, Count Basie was the first African-American man to win a Grammy. Now, a new project is seeking to bring Basie's music to contemporary listeners.
Paul Peck: Late Night Basie is a special project celebrating the music and influence of Count Basie, reimagining his classic songs with modern artists in a contemporary fashion. Hey, my name is Paul Peck. I'm the producer of Late Night Basie.
Speaker 3: [singing] Blue and sentimental,
My dreams are blue dreams,
Just won't come true dreams I fight
Melissa Harris-Perry: It's a tribute album, hoping to bring Basie to a whole new audience.
Paul Peck: The idea for the Late Night Basie album came out of this idea of celebrating the impact and influence of Basie and really thinking about the collaborative nature of Basie. That's something that's really had a big impact on my career. I'm known as someone that produces these collaborative projects, working with superstar artists, and often people that have somewhat of a different background. People that on paper seem to play in different sandboxes and figuring out the common through-line and how we can celebrate and mine different shared points of inspiration and influence.
When I think about the music of Count Basie, I think of Basie as a primary color in the sonic palette of modern music. World music, American music. He had such an indelible influence across every genre and he redefined popular music so many times. Part of how he did that was by bringing different vocalists, different people, different sounds into what he did. The idea of doing something in modern times that celebrated his collaborative spirit in the nature of incorporating different sounds seemed like a real natural fit for me and seemed something that was really timely for us to do at this point.
Melissa Harris-Perry: For this project, Paul worked with the Count Basie Estate, publishers of Count Basie's music and Wayne Winborne, the executive director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University, Newark. The new album features artists like Lettuce, Larkin Poe, Cimafunk and the Count Basie Orchestra.
Paul Peck: Thinking about these different artists that if each had their own experience in their own life and they're known for doing something special, and then they step outside their comfort zone and they work with other artists. It just shows this idea of I might be a different artist and I might come from a different background, but I understand what you do and I'm inspired by what you do. If we look closely, we can identify shared points of musical inspiration, things that informed what you do and things that inform what I do.
It becomes this idea of a celebration of connection. I think when we go back to the roots of music and if we look close enough, we can all find pathways to and from Count Basie to what we're doing now. I felt like that was a really beautiful and timely lesson for us to celebrate in musical form and what better way to celebrate connection and through music.
Speaker 4: You didn't think that we would make it out here, didn't you?
You didn't think that we could take it out here, didn't you?
This is all a big scam to make us eat pig ham
This project yeah is a game of doom with the big band
Man, the Count Basie sound crazy,
provided inspiration for the Black and brown babies,
sophisticated ladies who get away with the red drink
Not to hear the sounds of kid from the Red Bank
Paul Peck: The opening track is this band Lettuce backing Talib Kweli. They created a beautiful and new version of the song, Didn't You, which was originally a instrumental song. Kweli extrapolated the phrase, Didn't You, into this beautiful, inspiring and transcendent almost run through of the environment that Basie came from, where he brought his career. It's almost like a sweep of his entire life in a 16 bar verse.
In the sonic landscape behind this whole project, these are all guys that are Berkeley trained jazz musicians that play funk, but they're certainly influenced by R&B, rap, rock, and reggae, and a thousand other genres that I wouldn't want to put them into a specific category or bucket. It was a really new take. I think that they were really inspired collectively Kweli with Lettuce about the idea of giving it a go to try a new version of the Count Basie song. I told them, "Don't try to restrain yourself. This thing will ultimately be respectful if you follow your inspiration."
The drummer, Adam Deitch, took the production lead on the music of the track and he really thought about the drum parts and then from a horn standpoint. They have two horn players in the band, but they layered, I think, eight saxophone parts and all these different trumpet parts to create this full, big band sound that was exactly in the lineage of Count Basie and the Count Basie Orchestra, but done in a new way. It created the perfect sonic landscape for Kweli to tell his story. It was a beautiful thing and I think a perfect doorway into the world that we created with the record.
Melissa Harris-Perry: There are six reimagined Count Basie tracks, and it closes out with an infectiously energetic rendition of Basie's hit song, Saint Thomas.
Paul Peck: I just felt so blessed to have Cimafunk on the project with the Soul Rebels and with Nick Peyton and with Weedie Braimah. Soul Rebels were one of the first artists that I went to for the record because they're prolific collaborators. I've known and worked with them forever. They're one of the most inspiring groups out there. I went to them with this project and they were just over the moon about the idea of doing something to celebrate Count Basie.
They felt like he was such an important influence on them and they immediately zeroed in on this particular song. It was not my idea to do this song. Soul Rebels first thing he said, "Is Saint Thomas available?" Of course, a Sonny Rollins, Classic Number that Basie had a signature version of. The idea of bringing in Nicholas Payton and they just had a beautiful vision for it.
I was fully on board with embracing this direction and when idea came across the radar, which I think was a pretty just clear, incredible opportunity to have Cimafunk create original vocals for this song, it really felt in line with the concept of the project and to bring vocals into an instrumental track. He seemed the perfect artist, he's of course a Cuban artist, but he also has incredible influences and influences that he shares with Nicholas Payton, who we were also blessed to have on the record and influences that he shares with Basie and most importantly, influences that he shares with Soul Rebels.
All of them were honored and inspired to participate in something celebrating the legacy and impact of Count Basie. It just became a very natural fit. When they got into the studio together in New Orleans, pure magic was created. You can really feel that magic crackling through the speakers on the track.
Melissa Harris-Perry: For Peck and for all the collaborators on this album, the work honors the true collaborative spirit and musical chance-taking of Count Basie.
Paul Peck: Together, each one of these artists is doing something different and really bringing out parts of each other's artistry and personality that might not have been touched upon previously. That's what Basie was doing in his prime. He was forging new musical territory. He was bringing collaborators in new directions. He was allowing himself to be pushed in new directions. That was really the lofty goal of the project and I think we all believe we were successful in accomplishing that goal and hopefully being respectful and paying tribute to the spirit of Basie and everything that he stood for.
Speaker 5: Well, this, ladies and gentlemen, just about winds up our little session. For all the gang and myself, we sincerely hope you've enjoyed this as much we've enjoyed working for. It's been Swell and you just wonderful again. Until we meet again, thanks a million again, and invite us again back soon. Very shortly. Until we meet again. Good evening.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Paul Peck is the producer behind Late Night Basie. The Count Basie tribute album. The full album is out April 7th.
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