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A Royal Tribute 

The SJO has saved the best for last: Count Basie.

They've gone and saved the best for last. That's the consensus emerging from the ranks of the Spokane Jazz Orchestra concerning the group's 2002-03 season finale concert at the Met on Saturday night; a concert featuring the best of one of the most respected (and hardest swinging) names in all of jazz: Count Basie.

"Playing music from the Count Basie library is the specialty of the Spokane Jazz Orchestra," declares SJO Director Dan Keberle. "The Count Basie Band can swing like no other, and the music written for that band is some of the most fun, and most swinging music ever written in jazz. It's the favorite of not only myself, but of all the members of the band."

The Basie Big Band has always been a popular favorite, too. Originally formed in Kansas City, the group migrated to Chicago in the mid-1930s, when Basie developed a lively, robust and direct ensemble sound that swung through nearly a half a century of jazz evolution. As the group's pianist, Basie was not only a fine musician in his own right, but an effective and beloved bandleader who afforded his musicians a great deal of creative latitude. Much of the group's success over the years, in fact, was due to the direct influence of a handful of the Count's talented long-term sidemen and composer-arranger collaborators, including saxophonist Lester Young, bassist Walter Page, guitarist Freddy Green and vocalists such as Billie Holiday, Jimmy Rushing and Joe Williams.

We should also add the upcoming evening's guest vocalist, Carmen Bradford to that list. Bradford sang with the Basie Band for nearly 10 years beginning in the early '80s, far longer than any other single vocalist.

Bradford was raised in California and took her formal music training at Huston-Tillotson College in Austin, Texas. She has worked on performance and recording projects with such luminaries as James Brown, Lou Rawls, Willie Nelson, Lena Horne, Tony Bennett, Joe Williams, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Wilson, Herbie Hancock, George Benson, Wynton Marsalis, Kenny Rankin, Doc Severinsen and many others. She spent nearly a decade with the Count Basie Orchestra during which time the band was awarded two Grammys. Carmen was also involved in the Grammy-winning "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?" (from George Benson's 1992 album, Big Boss Band).

"Having Carmen Bradford as guest vocalist just puts the whole evening over the top," says Keberle. "Her bluesy vocal style is so full of energy and deep passion -- an incredible, huge voice with more style than anyone still singing."

What's on the program? Count on original Basie tunes such as "'Lil Darlin'," "Kid from Redbank," "Splanky," "Freckle Face," "Captain Bill" and "I Can't Stop Lovin' You," along with selections Bradford actually performed with the famous bandleader: "The Very Thought of You," "Teach Me Tonight," "Young and Foolish," "Muddy Water," "April in Paris," "Sweet Georgia Brown," "Ain't No Use," "Them There Eyes" and "I Love Being Here With You."

Bradford's talents and her close relationship with the Basie repertoire lend the SJO's 28th season finale an air of authenticity in addition to that consistently supplied by this well-oiled ensemble. While he naturally hopes the audience will be delighted with the concert, Keberle hints that no one will be gleaning more pleasure from it than the members of the SJO. They've been looking forward to this one for a long time.

"We will be there ready to swing like crazy," he promises, "inspired and ready to play like no other concert we have done in the past decade."

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