“Getting Up To Date
AAJ: These connections are just unbelievable. So now, letâ€™s take it up to the present time. How did you come to take over as director after Frank Foster?
BH: Frank led the group for about ten years. There developed some differences of opinion and he chose to leave. I came to it after Grover Mitchell. He was the leader from about 1995 until he died in 2003. Grover was one of my best buddies and we more or less got together on the running of the band. He confided in me a lot and I did what I could to help him, but I was still playing the bass trombone chair. He had a very rough year in 2003. He had a cancer that finally took him out in August 2003. We floated around some names of people who could possibly take over and not jilt the public too much. We thought of Frank Wess and Benny Powell. They werenâ€™t too keen on it, so the next logical person was me because of my connection with the â€˜50s band.
AAJ: So what made you accept the position? I mean, you could do whatever you choose to. Why would you take on such responsibilities, road trips, etc?
BH: It took a lot of persuasion from family, from people calling me from everywhere, and the encouragement of the guys in the band, and I finally said, â€œWell, OK. Iâ€™ll give it a try.â€ Itâ€™s been a little over a year and half now. Itâ€™s different- youâ€™re used to playing the horn on every tune, and all of a sudden youâ€™re not.
AAJ: I noticed at the Kimmel concert that you picked up your axe only once or twice.
BH: Well, youâ€™ve got to give the other guys their shot!
AAJ: Some of the arrangements at the concert were fabulous. Whoâ€™s doing your charts now?
BH: Well, Bob Ojeda has done a considerable amount of arranging for us, and Frank Foster and Sam Nestico still contribute.
AAJ: Where is Nestico these days?
BH: He lives in California. He does some great things with schools and universities, and every now and then he does a big band album. Heâ€™s still active.
AAJ: How do you recruit the new guys for the group?
BH: One of the guys is very new - heâ€™s only been with the band about two weeks! Grant Langford.
AAJ: How do you find these guys?
BH: Mostly, as is true of the history of the band, somebody recommends someone they think can play the chair. Grant came to me because he was highly recommended by several musicians. Grant is a very well-balanced young man and he plays good saxophone, so I guess heâ€™ll be here for a while.
AAJ: So you look for musicians with good character as well as ability to play?
BH: Thatâ€™s right. Because you get a lot of great instrumentalists who wouldnâ€™t fit into the band. Thatâ€™s one thing that Basie was careful about, getting someone who melded into the band scene itself, because youâ€™re close with these individuals traveling, sometimes youâ€™re together three or four weeks at a time. If you have an individual whoâ€™s a bit off center he can cause problems. When you hire someone you have to look at them for a while to see if theyâ€™re gonna fit in on a personal level. Basie taught me that.
AAJ: Basie was evidently very mature as a person - very responsible, thoughtful.
BH: Basie was one of the most impressive men Iâ€™ve every met. To me, Basie was a psychologist in his own right - he seemed to know how to figure guys out.
AAJ: On another note, the musicians in the current Basie Orchestra, do they do other gigs too - make the scene, so to speak - or are they exclusively working for the Basie group?
BH: No, when we have some time off weâ€™re playing elsewhere, doing our thing. Thatâ€™s good. It keeps our chops together and lets us vent some steam in other ways.
AAJ: One of the wonderful things youâ€™ve done with this group, with some of the newer musicians, youâ€™ve blended the contemporary sounds with the traditional almost seamlessly.
BH: Iâ€™ll tell you what: when Iâ€™m leading and conducting rehearsals, Iâ€™m trying to hear what Basie would have heard, and trying to figure out whether I should change a phrase, maybe lay back a little bit, because sometimes the way the music is written is not the way you want it to sound. I think itâ€™s important for the leader to step in and inject something into it.
AAJ: So the music is still evolving. In one tune, â€œNature Boy,â€ which Lizz Wright sung with the band at the Kimmel, there was a beautiful antiphonal thing between the brass and woodwinds.
BH: We very rarely repeat in any show any particular line, because we keep trying to put up new stuff every night and put up new tunes every night, just to challenge the guys. We never do two shows in a row with the same tunes. Weâ€™ve got to keep the musicians interested. In his later years, Basie physically lost his ability to keep up with all the tunes and a lot of the time we were playing the same tunes every night. It started to tell. We lost interest. So thatâ€™s a lesson learned. We have a big repertoire, so why not use it?
AAJ: In terms of your audiences these days, are you playing mostly in concert halls, colleges?
BH: Mostly concert halls. We do a fair amount of schools. And now weâ€™re doing a fair amount of work with symphony orchestras. We work with orchestras like the Dallas Symphony, The Malaysian Symphony in Kuala Lampur. Last month, we worked with the West Palm Beach Pops Orchestra for five nights and the reception was tremendous.
AAJ: What pieces do you play?
BH: Well, I tell you what, Frank Foster comes through again. Heâ€™s written some orchestral extensions to be played around his original arrangements. We have some as well from Sam Nestico. Weâ€™re trying to see if we can get some of it recorded.”
- Victor Schermer