Appellate Judge James A. Stewart thought "Appellate Judge" was as cool a title as "Count."
"He swung us through the better part of a century."
Count Basie, actually Bill Basie before he claimed his title, started out playing at theaters in the silent era before taking charge of a band in Kansas City. Count Basie: Then as Now, Count's the King isn't exactly a biography of the jazz bandleader, but a fond reminiscence from members of his band.
There is a little bit of bio, in the form of a poem written by band member Frank Foster (the charge is a line from his "The Basie Rap Jam"). However, what drives Count's the King are the stories that band members tell while crowded around a restaurant table. They talk about Billie Holiday, marijuana use on the bus, a prank "silent solo," and appearing in Blazing Saddles, to name just a few of the topics.
This is interspersed with clips, including scenes from two Jerry Lewis movies that featured the comedian miming to Basie numbers; photos; film of the band, and lots of music.
It's a free flowing verbal jam session, much like jazz. It also has a warm feeling to it; you can hear the love the band members had for Basie—and for performing—as they swap stories. Some of them are about Basie, who could with just a minimal gesture get the band to "explode," but it's a reunion in which the band as a whole—and occasionally other great performers, such as those in Billy Eckstine's band—share the spotlight.
Picture quality varies, depending on the sources, with the lines through a 1957 kinescope as the worst example. The emphasis is on conversation, not music, but the sound quality is decent.
A text timeline or similar feature to present Basie's biography and discography would have been helpful, since Basie's career is hard to follow from the discussion.
It's mostly aimed at fans who already know the basics of Basie's story, but the outline in Foster's poem will give newcomers enough to go on. Any musicians in the audience will likely also find that the stories strike a chord.
It's not the definitive Count Basie documentary, but it's not guilty.
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