On a cold winter's night Chicago in early 1936, record producer John Hammond patiently spun the radio dial in his car, searching for music. His exploration of the airwaves resulted in his discovery of the Count Basie Orchestra, broadcasting live from the Reno Club in Kansas City. The band was rough and occasionally out of tune, but their energetic playing and solid, swinging rhythm section thrilled Hammond. He immediately told his friend Benny Goodman about his discovery, and the two of them made plans to visit Kansas City and hear the band in person. Upon meeting Basie, Hammond convinced him to take his band on the road, and made arrangements for Basie to begin an engagement at the Grand Terrace Ballroom in Chicago.
But Hammond did not get a chance to record the Basie orchestra for another three years, for Jack Kapp, the shrewd president of Decca Records, met with Basie -- without Hammond's knowledge -- and offered him a recording contract. Heartbroken and angry at the paltry sum that Kapp offered Basie, Hammond insisted that at least some of Basie's men owed him a recording session. Basie agreed, and brought a quintet consisting of himself, drummer Jo Jones, bassist Walter Page, trumpeter Carl "Tatti" Smith, and tenor saxophonist Lester Young into a cramped Chicago recording studio on November 9, 1936.
The studio was so small that in order to fit a piano, the musicians, and portly singer Jimmy Rushing all in the same room together, Jo Jones could only bring his high hat cymbal stand and snare drum. But under Hammond's direction, the group turned out four astounding performances in a date that Hammond later described as, "the only perfect, completely perfect recording session I've ever had anything to do with."
Because Basie was under contract with Decca at the time (though he had yet to record for them) these records were released under the name "Jones-Smith, Inc.", a play on Jo Jones and Carl Smith's last names. On subsequent reissues and foreign issues, the records were credited either to Count Basie's Blue Five or the Count Basie Quintet.
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Lady Be Good