Count Basie Orchestra is a relevant blast from the past

Written By By tricia Despres For Sun-Times Media Posted: 04/02/2014, 11:14am

Throughout the history of FitzGerald’s nightclub in Berwyn, owner Bill Fitzgerald has seen thousands of musical acts take the stage, from complete unknowns, to those just on the brink, to some of the best artists in the business. But the legends still have a way of taking his breath away.

“To see what I think is the best big band in the country up close in an intimate club with great acoustics is really a unique experience,” gushes Fitzgerald, who welcomes The Legendary Count Basie Orchestra for two showsSunday. The group sold out his venue for two shows last August.

“At most of the venues they play, the stage is probably as big as our entire club, but I think the musicians enjoy it, too, because it’s different and intimate and a bit more casual than what they are used to.”

“We can tear the roof off the place when we put out the full power of the band,” laughs Count Basie Orchestra director Scotty Barnhardt. “A place like FitzGerald’s is one of the best places to see a big band. Not only is the audience so close that you can touch them, but the music can also emotionally touch people, whether you are delivering an intimate or powerful sound. The room becomes one big orchestra hall.”

Alongside 18 talented musicians, including Chicago’s very own vocalist Everett Greene and saxophonist Eric Schneider, Barnhardt says the music of the Count Basie Orchestra remains quite timeless within an industry always in search for the next big thing.

“We are basically playing the same type of thing we have always played throughout our 79-year history,” explains Barnhardt. “We play tunes written in 1935, and we play arrangements I finished just a few months ago. You just never know what we might have up our sleeve.”

Still relevant, even after the death of the late great William Count Basie in 1984, the Count Basie Orchestra remains one of the most elite jazz groups in the land, with over 17 Grammy awards to its credit. “The Count Basie Orchestra once did 66 one-nighters in a row,” Barnhardt says, laughing. “There is nothing better than still going out on tour today to share this amazing music. I’m doing my life’s passion.”

And from a guy who was born and raised on the music of the choirs of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and introduced to the music of Basie when we was was just a little boy, Bernhardt says you might want to bring the kids to this show.

“Back in the day, our elders didn’t ask us if we wanted to go, they just took us,” chuckles Barnhart. (The FitzGerald show is 21+over, but kids can attend if accompanied by a parent.) “That’s what needs to happen more today. Kids need to be exposed to way more art and way more music so they can get a true understanding of music. I went in eighth grade to listen to the music of Basie, and it ended up changing my life. Once they see what we can do, they are hooked.”

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