Before I had ever heard of Duke Ellington, I knew about Count Basie. In our family the Count Basie Orchestra was a household name, because Basie’s orchestra is, and always will be, my father’s favorite big band – my dad, Larry, had his own big band in Indiana, and they played Basie’s greatest hits. So at a very young age I listened to all the Count Basie Orchestra albums. You just can’t help but smile when that band is swinging so hard!
After college I moved to L.A. and met someone just as passionate for the Basie band music as my father: Roger Spencer, who is now my husband. It was a match made in heaven!
Shortly after Roger and I moved to Nashville, I began arranging entire Basie charts, condensing them to quartets. I began with the song “Shiny Stockings,” because it was the most logical, and I had been playing it for years with various big bands and combos. My approach to this style is similar to how the great George Shearing voices his chords: melody on both top voice and bottom with the actual chord structure in between.
This technique, which we call block voicings, requires the pianist to play the melody using both hands in unison. The right hand plays a chord inversion in which the melody is the highest note in the voicing and the other notes are as close as possible to the melody note (less than an octave). The left hand doubles the melody note one octave lower. This is how I approached the soli sections of the tunes. But I certainly stayed true to the way Basie would solo: simple, yet swinging and melodic. Once I figured this out, it totally changed my playing, and my style finally became definitive. It was life changing!
In the mid 90’s, I formed my quartet: Chris Brown on drums, Andy Reiss on guitar, and Roger Spencer on bass – three guys who are perfect at what they do. Roger and Chris, the backbone of the groove, simply lay it down. Andy, our “secret weapon,” secures the time by playing Freddie Green style guitar, all quarter note comping. It doesn’t hurt that he has a Stromberg guitar just like one that Freddie Green played. Count Basie always said Freddie was the leader … not him!
In 2002 my quartet began working through the first round of arrangements, which would later become the “Shiny Stockings” CD. We picked the most famous Basie tunes we could arrange. But here comes the fun part: We recorded this CD in our log cabin 30 minutes northwest of Nashville in Pleasant View, Tennessee.
A few years earlier I had been lucky enough to purchase a Bosendorfer 7’4” grand piano, which was perfect for this project. We set up our living room with a bunch of microphones and recorded the whole thing. It was very physically demanding for me, and I found that after recording for four hours my hands would give out. So we had to record three separate times to complete the CD. Our control booth was in the basement, which made it very interesting to communicate with our friends Jeff Hall and Will Reiss, who were nice enough to come and push the buttons. This CD was recorded on a Tascam 16 track tape machine. Wow … right? No digital, no punching, just live!
After we recorded all the tracks, Roger mixed the entire CD. (It’s still such a great sounding CD and Roger did a great job at twisting those knobs!) Then came the next step: artwork!
Brian Parker, a very talented friend, wanted to create original artwork for the cover. When he sent me his ideas, I could hardly believe my eyes! It was exactly what I wanted and had visualized. My best friend, Elyse Adler, took photos for the inside of the cover, and Melissa Delgado helped with the artwork layout, making it look great!
The “Shiny Stockings” CD released in October 15, 2003 at the Nashville Jazz Workshop with all of our friends and family there to support us. Playing these songs to a live audience was so much fun. We sold over 75 CDs that night!
A few months later, we hired our friend Greg Lee from WMOT to do our radio airplay campaign. He did a wonderful job, and we ended up at #26 on the jazz charts! Not bad for doing it yourself! And it’s still going strong. The “Shiny Stockings” CD has been on the top of the playlist for Bob Parlocha’s syndicated jazz show since 2004! It’s such a thrill to be able, through “Shiny Stockings,” to share my passion for Count Basie’s music with the world.