The legendary Count Basie Orchestra
8:30 p.m. Aug. 31 and 7 p.m. Sept. 1
FitzGerald’s, 6615 Roosevelt Road, Berwyn
Fitzgeraldsnightclub.com; (708) 788-2118
It’s the weekend of the Chicago Jazz Festival, but one of the swingingest events in the city will be happening in Berwyn.
The legendary Count Basie Orchestra will perform Saturday and Sunday evenings at FitzGerald’s, squeezing its big sound into an unusually intimate setting.
“Having the chance to see a band of that caliber in a small venue like this one is a pretty rare opportunity,” said owner Bill FitzGerald, explaining that the club has cultivated a relationship with the Basie orchestra for the last 20 years, resulting in four or five bookings during open nights on tours. “It’s nice for the musicians because it reminds them of the old club days and it’s really great for the fans who get to experience them up close.
“Listening to the Count Basie Orchestra in a room where you can sit five feet from the front line and no further than 35 feet at the back — that’s something special.”
Also making the event special, FitzGerald said, will be performances by two Basie Orchestra veterans — singer Carmen Bradford and drummer Butch Miles.
The 69-year-old Miles, who FitzGerald described as “a rock star in the jazz world,” has performed since the 1970s with Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Dave Brubeck, Mel Torme and more, including two multi-year engagements with Count Basie. He recalled becoming an instant fan of the Basie Orchestra the first time he heard them on the radio as a boy in West Virginia, but he never dreamed he might play with them some day.
“When I was starting out as a drummer, I thought the epitome of anything I could ever do, the greatest thing I could hope for, would be to possibly sit in with them sometime,” Miles said. “I never imagined working with them.”
Miles said it was the Basie Orchestra’s impeccable timing that knocked him out at the time, combined with its virtuosity and versatility.
“The band was so tight,” he explained. “But it was also so dynamic. Basie made sure the group could play anything from a whisper to knock-the-paint-off-the-wall loud and anything in between.”
It’s still an incredible thing today, he said, because the band features numerous veteran performers and has been directed by veterans in the approved Basie style since the bandleader died in 1984.
“You have to hear it live to appreciate it fully, though,” Miles said. “To get the nuances, the very, very subtle things that go on in the band with the arrangements. A recording can be great, but the Basie band live is another thing entirely.