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Ohio State Jazz Ensemble honors a legend in “Basically Basie”

The Ohio State Jazz ensemble performs. Courtesy of Vince Gilotti.

Seventeen total musicians, comprised of five saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets, four rhythm instruments and one vocalist, will be taking the stage this Friday to perform “Basically Basie,” a concert centered around centered around renowned jazz composer Count Basie in celebration of Black History Month.

The decision to play Basie’s music for Black History Month was a conscious one, made by Kristopher Keith, the director of the Ohio State Jazz Ensemble. Keith has been working with his students since the end of last semester to learn Basie’s work in time for Friday’s concert.

“Count Basie’s music is like Mozart’s, in a way,” Keith said. “You have to have an understanding of Basie’s music if you’re a jazz musician.”

In years past, the ensemble has honored Duke Ellington and John Coltrane during their February concerts, but this year, Keith strove to make a connection with Black History Month.

“This time around I really made an effort to make that connection [to Black History Month],” Keith said. “[Diversity] needs to be celebrated more, especially when we’re talking about these amazing, gifted musicians.”

Vince Gillotti, a fifth-year in jazz studies performance, has been a member of the Jazz Ensemble for four years. He’s glad that Keith pushed the ensemble this year “to go beyond,” especially in honoring Basie.

“I think part of [honoring black musicians] is…making people more aware of the contributions that many African-American individuals have made to the history of music…jazz in particular,” Gillotti said.

Although the music is all composed by Basie, the songs themselves are arranged by different artists. The job of an arranger is to take the music that was originally written and adapt it so that it can be played by a certain group of people.

“There’s about fourteen pieces,” Keith said. “[We’re] starting off with a Benny Carter arrangement…and then we’re going to Freddie Green…and then Frank Foster…and one of the big features of the concert is the music of Neal Hefti.”

Cole Biedenharn, a third-year in music and a guitar player for the Jazz Ensemble, has been tasked with learning how to play guitar the way it was done in Basie’s band.

“For me, [a challenge] was learning the style of Freddie Green…the guitar player in the Basie ensemble,” Biedenharn said. “His style is really well known for having a solid rhythm.”

If nothing else, Biedenharn and Gillotti both think that learning how to play Basie has taught them more about jazz. Being able to honor the musician during Black History Month is simply an added bonus, they said.

“Basically Basie” begins at 8 p.m. Friday in the Weigel Hall Auditorium. Tickets are free. The concert also will be live streaming on the Ohio State’s School of Music’s YouTube channel.

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