Things will be boppin' with high style and flair at the Music Hall this Saturday, as the Charleston Jazz Orchestra (CJO) — led by conductor Charlton Singleton — continues its inaugural season with an instrumental program of swing and jazz by the late big band legend William "Count" Basie.
Sponsored by the Jazz Artists of Charleston (JAC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the jazz community, Countin' on Basie celebrates the music of one of America's most popular jazz artists.
A modest but highly talented pianist and bandleader, Basie was a key figure during the jazz world's big band era, admired by fans and musicians for his cool arrangements, joyful performance style, and musical dexterity.
"I sat down with the Basie thing in mind, and thought of as many Basie standards as I could," says Singleton. "With Basie, there are so many obvious choices."
In addition to his work as a trumpeter over the last 20 years with local rock, funk, and jazz combos, Singleton has years of experience as an educator, working with school concert bands, church groups, and one-on-one with students. Before last year, he wrote pieces and arrangements for concert bands and marching bands, but never for a traditional big band like this.
"The most difficult thing is in narrowing things down," Singleton says. "With this particular show, we'll have no vocalists on stage. Some people might wonder how we can have a Basie show without someone singing some of the songs. There are so many vocalists to choose from, I don't really know how to narrow it down. Another show next season might be Singin' with Basie or something, with vocalists on everything."
The CJO made its debut on the Music Hall stage last November with a program called Holiday Swing, produced by author and columnist Jack McCray, an advising member of the JAC board who writes a jazz column for The Post and Courier.
The ensemble actually kicked off earlier as the Charlton Singleton Orchestra last spring, when the conductor led the tuxedo-clad jazz orchestra through a homegrown South Carolina Hit Parade program. Fittingly, the opening number that evening was a boisterous rendition of "Whirley-Bird" by the Count Basie Orchestra.
"During that first show, we didn't know that it would go this far," explains Singleton. "It was just going to be that one event produced by the Charleston Jazz Initiative to showcase composers and musicians who had something to do with South Carolina. When we saw that it would be successful, we changed it over to the Charleston Jazz Orchestra, and patterned it after the New Orleans, Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra."
Over the last year, the JAC and the CJO ascended to higher levels of artistry (and popularity) with each concert. The last two events were welcoming, and the performances were already crisp and dynamic.
"Each show has been carefully thought out," Singleton says. "I already know what the next two shows will be. At our last meeting, Jack and Leah Suárez [the JAC president] asked me, 'Could you come up with shows for the next two years?'"
Singleton says this Saturday's program will be quite "audience friendly," featuring plenty of Count Basie standards. "At this early point in our history, we definitely want to play a lot of well-known hits from any artist we feature," he says.
Keep an ear out for a bad-ass call/response thing on "One O'Clock Jump" toward the show's conclusion.