I think it was John Hammond who once complained about one of the most stylish jazz pianists of all time being too shy to play piano. Of course, he was talking about Count Basie, the master of minimal (dubbed as economical) piano in the big band era. Still, I must say, comparing to Basie's organ recordings - which is the subject of this post- his piano work can be considered superabundant. Basie and organ is a beautiful but rare pairing.
Here, I'm trying to showcase his mastery at the organ from six 1952 sessions.
Before anything, I must return to some facts: Basie learned organ from Fats Waller and had a short career as the silent film accompanist. His first known recording at the organ dates back to 1939, when he accompanied Jimmy Rushing on Nobody Knows.
"Basie economized Fats' style," argues Geoff Alexander, "[he] had a sparse and 'jumping' feel to his playing, and I think influenced later organ players such as Wild Bill Davis, Milt Buckner, and Jackie Davis as much with the sound of his band as his playing."
From the early 1950s, when due to financial issues, the size of Basie orchestra drastically shrank, the small group became a favorite format. For these small group recordings, thanks to Norman Granz, Basie revisited organ almost a decade before it turned into a best-selling instrument. (In that regard think of Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff and many others who came to prominence in the 60s.)
In 1952, Basie took the organ seat on various occasions, some under his own name as leader, and with Oscar Peterson appointed as the piano man, and at least one session under Illinois Jacquet's name, when Basie was simply minding his own (glorious) business on the organ.
These sessions, at some point released by Verve as Basie at the Organ, are examples of Basie's "cool rage", if one borrows from the Jacquet's tune that Basie plays on the side B of the LP. By "cool rage" I mean, tense but flowing; conveying a wide range of emotions but always remaining in absolute control of itself.
The eleven tracks reissued on the VLP 9074 can be heard here: