count-basie_web.jpgMIAMI – Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald were among the greatest entertainers of their time. But while they were welcome to perform for the white community during segregation, they were not allowed to stay in Miami Beach or traditional hotels.

After performing for white audiences, they would do so again in Overtown, then check into hotels there.

In honor of Basie and Fitzgerald, and to recognize Black History Month, the Count Basie Orchestra – under the direction of
William Hughes – and singer Patti Austin will perform together in concert at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County.

The Feb. 20 concert, titled Jazz Roots: A Tribute to Ella and Basie, is in partnership with the Arsht Center and renowned producer Larry Rosen.

Jazz Roots, in its first year, is a six-event jazz concert series at the Center.

The series was created to heighten the awareness of music for people in the Miami area, said Carl Randolph, chairman of the Jazz Roots advisory committee.

“We wanted to use music to bring the community together, to see what we have in common,” he said. “It should not be just European music, we thought, but music reflecting the rich cultural backgrounds of the entire community.”

Randolph said he and Rosen felt that there was a story to be told about Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie because of Miami, their relationship to Overtown and the music experience.

“And it’s not just them, but all the musicians that played in Miami Beach that were not allowed to stay there, so they went to Overtown.”

The idea for the series was something Randolph said he “talked about with many for about six years,” but the planning was done over a few months.

“It was done very quickly. We had an idea of what could happen, what we would like to see happen. Finally the moment was right and we jumped right into it,” he said.

Randolph said he was told by many that jazz, presented on such a large scale, would never work in Miami and that concertgoers could never fill a hall.

In fact, the first three concerts were sold out; Basie-Ella is predicted to do the same. 

“We sold about 600 series tickets before the first concert,” he said, “and so far, people have loved it.”

The Jazz Roots program also has an educational component. Among the 900 students throughout the Miami-Dade County Public School system in jazz bands, 150 are invited to each performance.

“There they have the opportunity, the experience of meeting the musicians, having a discussion, participating in lectures,”
Randolph explained. “They sit close enough to listen and watch for musical cues.

“Many may not otherwise visit the Arsht Center.”

From the planning stages, an outreach to the schools was considered an important part of the Jazz Roots program, Randolph said.

Also attending are music students from Florida Memorial University.

Randolph said he would not be surprised if Miami was soon to be known as a center for music.

“It will have its own flavor, which is more international,’’ he said. “It’s an exciting time, an exciting place to be.”


REMEMBERING COUNT BASIE

Aaron A. Woodward III, Basie’s stepson, said he met the Basie family in his Queens neighborhood of St. Albans.

“I was 10 at the time,” the 62-year-old Woodward said. “I spent most of my life with them and they definitely had influence on my life and how things turned out.”

Woodard described Basie as “a great humanitarian who loved children and wanted all of them to get an education. He never got caught up in everything that happened around him. It’s not that he was a musical giant, but a human giant.”

Woodward also said he has no blood connection to the Basie family, “and that never made a difference in how they treated or cared for me.”

Basie’s greatest contribution, Woodward said, was that he was a people person and a genius at dealing with them.

“There is no question about his musicianship, but he was an even greater leader of people,’’ he said. “He had a magnetic personality.”

Woodward described Mrs. Basie as “a hard worker,” and added that she was a great swimmer who never had time to take advantage of and play in their pool.

“Mom was always in the basement working on the books. I told her that I’d become an accountant to help her out, and I did just that. After that, they began to rely on me to help them out.  That’s what started my career on the business end.”

Woodward, CEO of Count Basie Enterprises, admits that despite growing up in the Basie home and garnering a full appreciation of music, he is not a musician by trade, “and it’s not my hobby or primary interest. But I am extremely interested in anything to do with Count Basie.”

Woodward said he did try learning to play the trumpet in junior high school, “but everyone else was playing basketball or swimming, and I just didn’t have the dedication. It wasn’t a long career.”

In April of 1983, Mrs. Basie died of a heart attack.

“It was sudden, unexpected,” Woodward recalled. “Dad then asked me to take her place, to really have his back on the business side.”

During the following year, Woodward said, his relationship with Basie grew to an intensity he described as “unlike anything else we’d experienced. He shared a lot of his wishes and dreams with me, I really became his confidant. It was a trying time as well as a great time. It was really special.”

After becoming ill in the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, Basie died in 1984 in Hollywood, Fla.

Woodward recalled Basie’s final two performances.

“He honored Ella with his music, and then the next night he performed at the Hollywood Palladium.  Ella was definitely there,’’ he said. “He was not doing well at the time, but when he saw the people who came out for the music, he began to run up and down the keyboard with an incredible energy.”

The original Count Basie Orchestra, now a 19-member orchestra, was formed in Kansas City in 1935 and moved to New York City the following year.


HONORING ELLA

Dubbed “The First Lady of Song,” Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century, according to ellafitzgerald.com. In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million albums, according to the website.

On June 15, 1996, Ella Fitzgerald died in her Beverly Hills home.

Patti Austin, in what she describes as “acknowledging the power of the foundation – the pioneers in the business,” has performed her tribute to Ella Fitzgerald for five years. This is her first performance as Ella in South Florida.

“I’ve always been an Ella fan,” she said. “My dad was a musician. He played trombone, scatted; loved bebop. There was always music in the house.

“He loved Latino music, Beethoven, Bach, and part of that mix was Ella. She was at the top of that list as someone who brilliantly translated scatting into words with her voice. She was definitely among my personal favorites.”

Austin, 58, described her performance as “good, but it’s about an imitation of what is brilliant.  I am a fabulous imitator, but there are great innovators, like Ella.”

Austin grew up in the fish-farming town of Bayshore, Long Island, where her parents worked at the local state-run mental institution.

“They were attendants that held people down for shock therapy,” she said of her parents. “They both elevated themselves and became psychotherapists. That, to me, is how they used the power of music.”

Austin said she had the opportunity once to meet Ella and “was a complete idiot. I couldn’t think of anything to say, nothing discernable came out of my mouth.”

Nevertheless, Austin said that Ella was gracious and kind.

“I found out years later, through her assistant, that she championed what I was doing in my tribute to her. It does not get greater than that.”

Austin shared that she is pleased with the educational component that Jazz Roots offers.

“I’ve seen the Civil Rights Movements, the tail end of not being able to go anywhere because you’re black, and then being able to go everywhere because you’re black. I’m watching young people grow up not having a connection to their being. This type of education, which I fully support, can help that.

“Music has power.”

CynthiaRoby@Bellsouth.net

Photo: Count Basie




IF YOU GO

WHAT: Jazz Roots: A Tribute to Ella and Basie with Patti Austin and the Count Basie Orchestra

WHERE: The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall. 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami.

WHEN:  Friday, February 20, 8:00 p.m.

COST:   Tickets are $25 – $125.

CONTACT:   For tickets, call 305-949-6722 or visit www.arshtcenter.org
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WHAT: Jazz Roots: Roots of Fusion, featuring Fusion masters Chick Corea and John McLaughlin along with an all-star band featuring Kenny Garrett, Christian McBride and Brian Blade.

WHERE: The Adrienne Arsht Center, John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall. 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami.

WHEN: Friday, March 27, 8:00 p.m.

COST: Tickets are $25 – $125.

CONTACT: For tickets, call 305-949-6722 or visit www.arshtcenter.org
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WHAT: Jazz Roots: Straight Ahead, featuring Grammy Award winner and NEA Jazz Master Sonny Rollins, one of the all-time
great tenor saxophonists and one of the few remaining jazz titans.

WHERE: The Adrienne Arsht Center, John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall. 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami.

WHEN: Saturday, April 18, 8:00 p.m.

COST: Tickets are $25 – $125.

CONTACT: For tickets, call 305-949-6722 or visit www.arshtcenter.org