Three In The Afternoon: Basie, Ferguson, Teagarden

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Count Basie (1904–1984)

(Photo: DownBeat Archives)

Basie: They were doing the Lindy Hop in those days. Sometimes you couldn’t play too fast. That’s when they were really doing the Lindy.

Ferguson: Basie, did you see that again in Sweden?

Basie: Yes, yes, I did.

Ferguson: You know, when we played the dances in Sweden—the first night I played nothing above a medium tempo, and I thought, “Gee, they dance to that awful easy.” And then I started getting into these faster things that really are the things we play in the jazz clubs. They are melody dancers in Sweden. If you play well-known jazz standards, and you play them fast, they’ll just start walking around the floor, and they all do it like puppets—they all do it together.

DownBeat: What do you mean melody dancers?

Ferguson: They love American jazz standards. By that I mean, I would have been a smash hit if I would have had “Honeysuckle Rose” in the book. I was speaking about the commercial dance public, for which you could play very hip music.

DownBeat: The average age of your band, Maynard, is about 26?

Ferguson: Right.

DownBeat: And, Count, the average age of your band is ...

Basie: Don’t say it!

DownBeat: But what can be said about the youth of Maynard’s band as opposed to the polish and massive musicianship of your own band—men who have played longer?

Basie: You just said it. They just played longer, not that they played any better, they just played longer. ... Let me tell you something—we haven’t been old all these years. Like the teenagers now—well, we were playing to their parents, and they were young then. I mean, like we haven’t always been 90 years old. Twenty years ago, remember, I was 20 years younger, too.

DownBeat: If you and Basie have to play more concerts and dances than you do jazz clubs, do you think this compromises you as jazz musicians leading big jazz bands?

Ferguson: One of the greatest things to do is to try and always find out how you can be happy in what you do, and one of the things I spend a lot of time on is seeing how I can play jazz at a dance. And I think that in Jack Teagarden’s day he did a great job—days when you could have just played the melody and they could have danced. Instead, you figured, “I’ll start off with the melody, then I’ll go from there and do my own scene.”

Teagarden: Start my melody first. I’ve given this a lot of thought, because I’ve lived through this whole generation. I’m almost 58. I think if the television and radios would have more programs like [International Hour: American Jazz]. ... For instance, this will be talked about for several weeks—like when they had the Timex programs, the great shows that they had about once every six months—there was a lot of comment, but there was nothing solid. The have to keep it up, have some live music on television, and it’ll make people come back to listen to music again—they just don’t get to hear enough music.

Then, I think a lot of the fault of where the dancing went was the musicians themselves. Now, I’m not criticizing us. We’re all a little bit of a ham in a way, which I guess is true in any business. But you just can’t go out there and play every number fast to show off your technique. You’ve got to play some numbers for the dancers.…Dancing is a romantic recreation. Play four tunes for the public and one for yourself; “Stardust” and a lot of pretty things ... it’s real beautiful for romantic dancing—and then let them all ride.

Basie: You sneak one in.

Teagarden: You sneak one in.

Ferguson: Jack, one thing I’ve always felt, when you play at a university ... when Count Basie or Maynard Ferguson play for a prom, where we won’t have as many esthetic kicks, shall we say; nonetheless, the whole student body comes to that dance. And I’m sure Basie puts on a jazz concert for them in the middle of the evening—just as I do. And what happens is that you gain a lot more new fans for jazz in general, as well as for yourself at the dance than you do at the concert.

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