Author Ed Miller: “Music is the weirdest human thing. A few dozen songs out of the zillions recorded fire off like a massive dopamine flood every time I hear them.
And then like other people don’t even like those songs.”
A friend and long-time loyal blog follower recently sent me a 30-Day Song Challenge meme in the hope that I couldn’t resist taking the challenge and blogging about it. Here’s Day #2 – A Song That Always Makes You Smile: Count Basie, Jumpin’ at the Woodside.
During the mid-70s’ the daytime TV show The Gong Show had a fervent cult following and I was part of that cult. In a show already full of mayhem, the mayhem most looked forward to were the random appearances by Gene Gene the Dancing Machine, “a heavy-set, middle-aged black man wearing a green sweater jacket and flat cap. Gene-Gene’s arrival would always be treated as though it were a glorious surprise to everyone on the show, especially [emcee Chuck] Barris. Upon hearing the opening notes to his theme music (an arrangement of “Jumpin’ at the Woodside“, a popular Count Basie song), Barris’s face would light up and he would stop the show, yielding the stage to Gene-Gene. Members of the crew would toss random objects from the wings, littering the stage while Gene-Gene danced on, oblivious to the activity around him. The audience would cheer and applauded wildly throughout Gene-Gene’s performance as they, Barris and the panelists would enthusiastically mimic his dance moves, which consisted primarily of a slow-footed chug-chug motion punctuated by an occasional, exultant fist pointed skyward.”
Yeah, I guess you had to be there but I’m smiling just thinking about it.
Fast forward years later and now I’m a big jazz fan. And one day I put on a new Count Basie record. And suddenly . . . OMG!!!!!!!!! THAT’S THE GENE GENE THE DANCING MACHINE SONG!!!!!!
It was like finding an Infinity Stone. Fine, the Avengers movies weren’t out yet but if you’ve seen the movies then you know what it looks like when someone has discovered one of the secrets to the universe. 🙂
Gene Gene aside, Jumpin’ at the Woodside makes me smile a happy smile. First, you’ve got Count Basie’s playing piano in his trademark sparse and economic style, clipping some notes off and letting others just hang. He, like Miles Davis, are of the less is more philosophy of music.
What made Basie’s bands so great were the legendary soloists that started with and grew to fame in his bands. In this case you hear the tenor sax of a young Lester Young aka “Prez” or “Pres” (for President). And I’ve always loved Buck Clayton on trumpet.
Around 2:22 the song takes an exciting turn. First, there’s the call and response (a musical pattern common to African and African-American music) between the clarinet (Herschel Evans) and trumpet. That morphs into a collective improvisation between the soloists. Collective improvisation is a style of music most associated with New Orleans jazz where soloists are separately but simultaneously improvising consistent with the range of their instruments.
And then the whole orchestra joins in by comping in the background, subtly at first and then more forcefully as everything gloriously and joyously crescendos – and then in true Basie style, quiets down into a sudden ending.
And I’m smiling. 🙂