It didn't take long for the dance floor at the Carnation Plaza Gardens in Disneyland to fill last Sunday when the Count Basie Orchestra played its opening set.
Couples of all ages swarmed across the smooth surface, some moving with the quick, graceful lightness of practiced ballroom dancers, some shaking, swirling and bumping each other with wild abandon, others stepping carefully, their lips moving with a silent count.
Seven years after Basie's death, the orchestra that bears his name (and performs again this weekend at the Disneyland venue) still carries the trademark Basie sound, right down to pianist George Caldwell's spare embellishments and three-tone plink-plink-plink climaxes.
But the band, which has been under the direction of saxophonist-composer Frank Foster since 1986, also has developed its own personality, evidenced by up-to-date arrangements and the addition of younger musicians--such as trumpeters Melton Mustafa and Derrick Gardner--.
This is no static ghost band content to rehash an ascendant master's charts, but an orchestra that embraces the future of the music as well as its past.
Foster, who first joined Basie's band back in 1953, seems to bridge these generations with his tenor, showing a modern, angular sound.
Other standout soloists include saxman Kenny King, who strung together lines from a host of songs during his "Sweet Georgia Brown" solo on the band's first night, and trumpeter Bob Ojeda, whose improvisations are bright, shiny affairs. Add the full, confident sound of vocalist Carmen Bradford, and this is a band that can cover a variety of moods and eras. And you don't have to dance to enjoy it.
Who: The Count Basie Orchestra directed by Frank Foster.
When: Friday and Saturday, June 7 and 8, with sets at 7, 8, 9:30 and 10:30 p.m.
Where: The Carnation Plaza Gardens at Disneyland, 1313 S. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim.
Whereabouts: From the Santa Ana (5) Freeway, take the Harbor Boulevard exit and follow signs to Disneyland. The Carnation Plaza Gardens is inside the Disneyland complex.
Wherewithal: Admission to the show is included with park admission, $22.50 to $27.50.
Where to Call: (714) 999-4565.