Over the course of five years, Chico O’Farrill (above) arranged part or all of 11 Count Basie albums—from Basie Meets Bond in 1965 to High Voltage in 1970. Born in Havana, O’Farrill attended a military academy from 1936 to 1940 in Georgia where he began playing trumpet. He returned to Cuba after graduation and concentrated on arranging. In 1948, he moved to New York where he arranged for Benny Goodman’s bop band that recorded for Capitol. With the rise of the mambo at the start of the ’50s, O’Farrill wrote Latin-jazz charts for a range of bands.
In the early 1950s, O’Farrill released a series of 10-inch albums for Norman Granz. Then in 1955, he returned to Cuba before moving to Mexico City in 1957, where he worked for eight years in Mexico’s recording and TV studios. In 1965, he was back in New York arranging for television as well as big bands, including Count Basie’s.
His last album for the Basie band, High Voltage (MPS), has just been re-issued as a download by Edel Germany GmbH. The explosive band featured Gene Goe, Sonny Cohn, Waymon Reed and Joe Newman (tp); Grover Mitchell, Buddy Morrow and Frank Hooks (tb); Bill Hughes (btb); Bill Adkins (as); Jerry Dodgion (as,fl); Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis (ts); Eric Dixon (ts,fl); Cecil Payne (bar); Count Basie (p); Freddie Green (g); George Duvivier (b) and Harold Jones (d).
Too often jazz critics have written off Basie’s recordings after the early 1960s, incorrectly believing that the band’s peak was accompanying Frank Sinatra on It Might as Well Be Sprint in 1964. Hardly. The Basie band recorded swinging albums throughout the 1960s and early ’70s arranged mostly by O’Farrill and Sammy Nestico.
What makes High Voltage special is O’Farrill’s charts and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis’s tough tenor-sax solos. Throughout the late 1960s and early ’70s, Lockjaw added a gruff, lyrical bite to the post-Sinatra Basie band. His bluesy take-charge reed work was flavorful and exciting, adding an element of drama. Also in the album’s favor are swift standards that hadn’t been recorded by Basie previously. In addition, four musicians in the band weren’t regulars during this period: trumpeter Joe Newman, trombonist Buddy Morrow, and alto saxophonists Bill Adkins and Jerry Dodgion.
To this day, O’Farrill remains one of jazz’s most un-sung arrangers and among Basie’s best. He knew exactly when to add heat and swing, and he had an innate sense of how to get the Basie orchestra’s sections talking and your feet tapping. O’Farrill died in 2001.
JazzWax tracks: You’ll find the newly re-issued version of Count Basie’s High Voltage at iTunes and here.
JazzWax clips: Here’s Together, with Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis on tenor saxophone…
And here’s If I Were a Bell…