CAR­MEN BRAD­FORD

COUNT BASIE FEA­TURED SINGER

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It was 1982 and Car­men Brad­ford was wait­ing back­stage, where she and the Austin-based band Mi­nor Mir­a­cle were open­ing for the Count Basie Or­ches­tra, when she saw Basie him­self, sit­ting in the elec­tric cart he used to get around. Brad­ford asked the world-fa­mous band leader to give her a lis­ten and in a brash mo­ment, she told Basie that he should hire her as the or­ches­tra’s vo­cal­ist. Months later, when Basie called to of­fer her the job, Brad­ford hung up on him. “I thought he was my cousin, play­ing a joke,” she said. Brad­ford, who took Basie’s sec­ond call, has been as­so­ci­ated with the Basie or­ga­ni­za­tion ever since. She can name ev­ery mu­si­cian who was in the or­ches­tra when she joined it, as she proved in a phone call from her home in At­lanta. Among them was the leg­endary gui­tarist Fred­die Green, who joined Basie ac ou­ple of years af­ter the or­ches­tra was formed in 1935. Af­ter one of her ini­tial per­for­mances, he had some ad­vice for the twenty-two-year-old vo­cal­ist. “I can’t re­mem­ber what song I was singing,” Brad­ford said, “but he pulled me off to the side and said to me, ‘This is not an R& B gig. You can’t fill the songs with runs and hollers. The ar­ranger has taken the time to study you, to know where you breathe, how long you hold the notes. He uses this when he writes in where the trum­pets should shout and where the sax­o­phones will em­bel­lish. You have to sing where you’re sup­posed to sing in these ar­range­ments, not sing all over the place. ’It was quite a les­son.”

Brad­ford could be ex­cused for her short-livedR&B take on Basie’s mu­sic. The daugh­ter of vo­cal st Melba Joyce and cor­netist-com­poser-ed­u­ca­tor Bobby Brad­ford, she was ex­posed to all kinds of mu­sic as a child grow­ing up in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia. “Nei­ther of my par­ents tried to steer me in any di­rec­tion as to what mu­sic to lis­ten to. ere a mid­dle-class house­hold with all the crazi­ness tha ids of the ’60s and ’70s

ex­pe­ri­enced. My fa­ther would prac­tice in the bath­room mir­ror, and we went to his con­certs. Mom’s gigs too. But Mo­town was alive and well when I was grow­ing up.” She didn’t get into jazz un­til the age of six­teen. “I was in my dad’s of­fice [at Pomona Col­lege] and pulled out some al­bums he played for his classes. I heard Sarah Vaughan and then started lis­ten­ing to the rest of the col­lec­tion. I didn’t sing at an early age but grew up know­ing all the words to mu­sic my mother played: Ella, Jo­bim, Tony Ben­nett — that movie al­bum of his. I knew all that stuff. But I was in love with Chaka Khan.”

Brad­ford stayed with the Basie Or­ches­tra un­til 1990, but she never re­ally went away. As a solo act, she re­leased Fi­nally Yours, a 1992 col­lec­tion that in­cludes tunes from Lionel Hamp­ton, Ella Fitzger­ald, and Ray Charles. (Frank Foster plays tenor sax.) That was fol­lowed by With Re­spect, a disc that in­cludes pi­anist Cedar Wal­ton, Brazil­ian gui­tarist Dori Caymmi, and long­time Bran­ford Marsalis bassist Robert Hurst. She also spent time teach­ing in the mu­sic depart­ment of the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. “When I left the Basie band, I thought it was time to go. I’d done two record­ings with them. They’ve al­ways called me when they needed me, when they’re be­tween singers or wanted me back. It’s great when peo­ple see a fa­mil­iar face that they can con­nect with the band. Ev­ery time I go back, I go back be­cause of my love for Mr. Basie. He changed my life, gave me wings.”

She named some of her fa­vorite Basie Or­ches­tra ar­range­ments — Thad Jones’ “Stormy Weather,” Chico O’Farrill’s “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” Eric Dixon’s “A Foggy Day (In Lon­don Town)” — but says that sax­o­phon­ist Frank Foster, who di­rected the or­ches­tra be­tween 1986 and 1995, is her “ab­so­lute” fa­vorite. “He wrote beau­ti­ful mu­sic the en­tire time he was with the band and in the sax sec­tion. I can’t think of any­one who paid more at­ten­tion to my abil­i­ties than he did. I’ll never for­get a time on the bus, go­ing to the next gig. I went to the back to see what was go­ing on, and he was back there sit­ting and talk­ing and laugh­ing with three or four guys, car­ry­ing on three or four con­ver­sa­tions, and all the time he’s writ­ing, writ­ing ar­range­ments. And I thought, where am I, to be in the midst of these in­cred­i­ble peo­ple?”

Ethel Wa­ters with the Count Basie Or­ches­tra in 1943’s Stage Door Can­teen

Scotty Barn­hart leads the cur­rent it­er­a­tion of the Count Basie Or­ches­tra

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