Skip to main content

Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

The Count Basie Orchestra at the Fox Theatre

Sep 30, 2019 11:00AM ● By Enjoy Magazine

Count Me In

October 2019
Story by Natalie Caudle
Photos courtesy of The Count Basie Orchestra

THE COUNT BASIE orchestra, one of the longest running orchestras in American history, will grace the stage of the Visalia Fox Theatre on Oct. 11. The 18-piece band will feature soloist Carmen Bradford with the sounds of blues and swing reminiscent of the jazz age. 
Count Basie, known for his time and tempo, began his famous orchestra in 1934. Born as William James Basie in Red Bank, NJ, in 1904, Basie grew up within a musical household and learned piano from his mother. He first heard the big-band sound in 1928 when playing for Walter Page’s Blue Devils, an era of his career that changed the course of Basie’s life. Soon thereafter, Basie formed the band the “Barons of Rhythm” and was given his iconic name “Count” by a radio announcer in an attempt to bring a little more notoriety to the jazz leader. Basie’s fame continued to grow; in 1958, Basie was the first African-American male to receive a Grammy award. He earned eight more throughout his lifetime. 

Basie’s sound was unique and his style of leadership remarkable. In 1937, Basie wrote “One O’Clock Jump,” based on jazz riffs of the band members. The piece was recorded later the same year and is now considered a jazz standard.

Basie incorporated impeccable talent within his orchestra, featuring greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra and Dizzie Gillespie. Carmen Bradford, an R&B singer, was the opening talent for The Count Basie Orchestra in 1982. It was here that she met Basie and told him if he hired her she would make him millions of dollars. After hearing Bradford’s incredible voice, Basie agreed but waited nine months before contacting her. When the call finally came, having given up on the dream of performing with the legendary orchestra, Bradford hung up the phone mistaking Basie for her cousin, Otis. Basie called back once again, but said “I’m gonna call another little girl if you hang up the phone again. This is Mr. Basie, don’t you hang up this phone.”

Two days later Bradford received a call from the road manager for the orchestra with instructions to meet them on tour that weekend. Thirty of Bradford’s friends accompanied her to the airport to give her a proper sendoff. When Bradford arrived and discovered there wasn’t a boarding pass waiting, her friends pooled their money and bought her a roundtrip ticket, just in case. A few hours later, Bradford realized her dreams were coming true when she met Basie in the lobby of the hotel. The next day Basie introduced Bradford to the cats as “our little girl,” and the rest is music history.

Basie passed away in 1984, not long after hiring Bradford. The orchestra continues to tour and is celebrating its 85th year of music magic. Today the band is directed by Scotty Barnhart and was recently named the number one jazz orchestra in the world. 

Marina Rojas, marketing and developing manager for the Fox Theatre, is excited to bring back the famous orchestra and encourages anyone with an appreciation for jazz or big band to attend the show. The concert is guaranteed to be “in the pocket.” •

The Count Basie Orchestra • Oct. 11, 7:30 pm
Visalia Fox Theatre •
Tickets: $38 to $68