Troupes keep time long after founders lay down the beat - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Troupes keep time long after founders lay down the beat

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Posted: Friday, March 14, 2008 9:44 pm | Updated: 8:38 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Big bands founded by Count Basie and Duke Ellington come to the Valley this weekend, decades after their namesakes were booked at the big gig in the sky. But while the Count and the Duke might be long gone, members of their jazz ensembles say their legacies play on.

Bill Hughes, who has played trombone with Basie's band off and on since 1953, now leads the group and says things have changed little since the group lost the nine-time Grammy winner 23 years ago.

"It's different, but it's not different," the 77-year-old says. "The things that Basie insisted on with the band, we still insist on."

Musically, the song remains the same, he says, although there is more piano now than when Basie fronted the group. Famous for listening more than playing, Basie tended to sit back, coming in here and there.

The orchestra's objective is still to keep the tempo upbeat, Hughes says: "No matter who composed it it's got to swing," he says. "If it didn't swing, (Basie) didn't play it."

Barrie Lee Hall Jr., who plays trumpet with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, says his band's longevity comes from the music that made it famous. Ellington, who died in 1974, copyrighted more than 5,000 songs, Hall says - enough to fill an iPod and plenty to play new material when needed.

Hall, 58, has played trumpet in the band since 1973. He figures it might still be going long after he and the other two members of the band who were around during the Duke's days are gone.

"The band is almost 100 years old, so it's an institution," he says. "When you wrap your head around it, it's pretty amazing.

"It's possible, man! We still play Mozart and Beethoven - we're still tripping over it, the things these guys did in the 1700s."

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