Good Morning, Blues:The Autobiography of Count Basie as told to Albert Murray (Da Capo Press rerelease, 2002)
This is not a new book, it was published in 1985. I just got around to reading it is all. Count Basie passed in 1984, just two months after the first draft of the book was completed. Albert Murray was a jazz critic and also a music novelist, not a biographer, which in this case was the right call, because Basie was comfortable telling him the stories, and he captured them and wrote as the fan he was. He also wrote in the vernacular, and it’s fun to read it in the cool jazz language of the Count.
The book starts with a chapter where Basie is in his early 20’s and on a musical adventure, it’s fun and exciting. Then it goes to his childhood and family and progresses chronologically from there on. He was touring with a burlesque show that ran out of gigs and cash in Kansas City, and the Count spent about a decade with KC as his headquarters. The 30’s he describes I found to be interesting. The streets and neighborhoods he frequented are still there, and it gave a history lesson, but an insider’s history lesson, it felt to me. He played the organ in a theater to back silent movies here in KC. He knew Piney Brown, he finagled his way into Bennie Moten’s orchestra because it was the coolest band he had heard. He saw Joe Turner as the singing bartender. Through the course of the book he tells about his association with so many famous musicians, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Earl Hines, Art Tatum, Duke Ellington, Billy Eckstein, Joe Williams, the list goes on, but I’m stopping.
The book is fun (the Count enjoyed a little taste now and again, as he put it, threw his head back) and takes you through two world wars and the blues and jazz history of our country. There are funny stories throughout and the Count wisely chooses to not air any dirty laundry, kiss and tell, or speak of others habits. He had class. Its only 400 pages and I picked it up online for the cost of shipping and handling, it was $4 bucks. There are times when the story drags, Basie felt it important to talk about every personnel change to the band that every occurred, and there were lots and he also listed every song they ever recorded by recording session. These lists were unnecessary to me and stopped the flow, but I could have just skipped forward and didn’t. I recommend the read.