Fletcher Basington Orchestra | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Fletcher Basington Orchestra 

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No, there's no need to call your neighborhood jazz obscurantist to get the lowdown on Fletcher Basington--there ain't no such creature. U. of I. at Chicago jazz prof Richard Wang and veteran trumpeter Art Hoyle (who you'll find on some of those first Sun Ra records) put this jazz-repertory orchestra together for a 1993 performance. At a loss for what to call it, they hit upon this combination of the names Fletcher Henderson, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington--each a giant of the swing era--as a cute way of conveying the band's context and repertoire. The orchestra uses only the original arrangements; with the scholarly Wang at the podium, the powerful Hoyle leading from the back row, and a host of the city's most efficient jazz players in between, it pumps real-time life into museum-piece music. This concert, an afternoon "Father's Day Dance," will concentrate on some of the oldest music in the Basington book: pieces played by Henderson and Benny Goodman, who rode Henderson's arrangements to his first great success in the mid-30s. The band will feature the Chicago Symphony's principal clarinetist Larry Combs (playing the Goodman classic "Sing Sing Sing"); it will also showcase guest artist Louie Bellson, who belongs on just about anyone's short list of the great drummers in jazz history. Bellson played with Basie and Goodman and helped rejuvenate the Ellington band when he joined up in the early 50s. There he personified the Duke's rare balance of flamboyance and taste, and an electrifying energy still courses beneath the suave and elegant demeanor he radiates from the stage. Even when driving a big band, the septuagenarian Bellson plays with unfailing musicality: keep your eyes glued to the sticks and you'll see how every stroke not only drives but also shapes the music. (This concert is presented by the Jazz Institute of Chicago, on whose board this writer serves.) Sunday, 3 PM, Palace Theater, Bismarck Hotel, 171 W. Randolph; 427-1676. NEIL TESSER

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