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Count Basie Orchestra to perform at Kiski Area

| Saturday, March 29, 2014, 5:20 p.m.
Will Austin Photography
The Count Basie Orchestra performing at the Benaroya Hall in Seattle, Washington, USA March 31st, 2012
Will Austin Photography
The Count Basie Orchestra performing at the Benaroya Hall in Seattle, Washington, USA March 31st, 2012

Scotty Barnhart says one of his predecessors knew the key to success as a member of the Count Basie Orchestra.

“Sonny Cohn used to say, ‘All you have to do is shut your mouth and listen',” Barnhart says, approving of the guidance of the longtime trumpeter.

Barnhart says paying attention to the famed Basie band around them is what makes players fit in and produce the distinct sound that will fill the Kiski Area High School Auditorium April 4.

The trumpeter, who has been with the band for 21 years, took over as leader in 2013, giving him the challenge of maintaining the standards Basie (1904-84) set for the multiple-award-winning orchestra that has been around for 79 years.

“Basie set the bar so high, it's easy to mess it up,” Barnhart says.

He considers the continued success of the band and its ability to retain members is proof Basie's work is doing its job. The band tours about 20 week as year, doing four to six shows on each. It also has no trouble keeping its members committed.

“People come to us and stay with us,” he says, adding that is not generally the case with modern big bands. Most times, he says, current bands are filled with members who always have other jobs that lead to conflicting gigs.

“We don't have to find replacements,” he says. “You come to this orchestra; you come for life.”

Musically, the secret to success is twofold, he says. The band plays “intellectual music that makes you want to dance,” he says, explaining the arrangements all are challenging to the musicians but produce a listenable and enjoyable sound.

More important, he adds, is that “the band has one foot in the past and the other in the future.” Leaders and members of the band have known through the years they have to play “One O'Clock Jump” and “April in Paris,” Barnhart says. But, at the same time, they always have looked for new arrangements, as Barnhart does now.

The band has won 18 Grammy awards and virtually every respected jazz poll at least once, worked with famous performers such as Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald and appeared at presidential inaugurations.

Staying in touch with the history of the band probably is what got Barnhart the job as leader, he says.

When he joined the band, then-leader Frank Foster “was impressed at how all I did was related to Basie,” Barnhart says. “When I was relaxing, I was listening to Basie. When I was reading, I was listening to Basie. When I was driving my car, I was listening to Basie.”

He suspects he became a likely candidate to succeed Thad Jones, Foster, Pittsburgh native Grover Mitchell, Bill Hughes and Dennis Mackrel as leader of the band.

He respects and enjoys the challenge of keep-ing alive “one of the greatest orchestras in the world,” he says.

But he also says he knows he fades beneath the reputation the band has.

“It's not about me,” he says. “It's about the Count Basie Orchestra.”

Shawn Pityk from the Kiski music program says if the concert does well, the school will use the event as a fundraiser.

”But that's not its purpose — we are not advertising it that way anywhere,” he says. “This is not common for us, but we did book Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band last year. It's mainly a way to bring in some killer jazz groups.”

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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