Basie & Beyond!

July 20, 2022

Basie & Beyond! The Atomic Era Explored 


In this brand-new series of performances for 2022, Mark Armstrong leads a NYJO 18-piece ensemble through a programme built to explore the impact on contemporary music made by Basie and some of the incredible twentieth-century Black American artists that followed, such as Frank Foster, Dizzy Gillespie, Tadd Dameron, Oliver Nelson, Quincy Jones, and Thad Jones.


I have been in love with swing since playing ‘Splanky’ for the first time as a teenage trumpet player. As I have explored this music I have drawn constant inspiration from the combination of a great groove and the variety of colours that skilled writers create, from raw excitement to subtle, expressive textures.

Mark Armstrong, Music Director


What makes this era of Basie so pertinent to the ethos of NYJO is that Basie brought forth the talents of the younger generations to help him re-imagine and re-energise classic styles – emphatically reminding audiences that jazz is about feeling alive, and constantly renewing and re-inventing oneself. The youthful energy that was injected into the work by collaborators such as Neal Hefti, allowed this album to become music of youth, vigour, and joy.  

Due to the vibrancy of the players and the social complexities of the time, The Atomic Mr. Basie had no choice but to become the soundtrack for a generation beset by world war, global economic collapse, and callous, deeply rooted racial segregation. This music unabashedly celebrates life through hardship, and although having just passed its 64th anniversary, it has never been more relevant



The Atomic Era 

What better time than now to delve in to Count Basie himself and his spirit for re-imagining, revolutionising and reviving the jazz artform via his hugely influential album, The Atomic Mr. Basie 

The Atomic Mr. Basie is said to mark the zenith of Basie’s creative exploration. The album showcases Basie and his players blasting big band swing at its most exciting, but it was Basie’s faith in the younger generations that brought about this shining masterpiece and subsequently a renaissance in his career. 

By the late forties, the swing band craze that had the American youth in a tight grasp for the best part of 20 years, began to dwindle. In the mid-fifties, both Count Basie and Duke Ellington’s bands were somewhat quiet, with Basie even dis-banding his full group to concentrate on smaller ensembles. Basie’s initial solution to this was to work with some of the hottest singers of the moment: Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr, Frank Sinatra. But secondly, and perhaps more poignantly, he called upon the younger generation of composers and arrangers to reinvent his band’s sound. One of those burgeoning composers was trumpet player, Neal Hefti 



Already a part of Woody Herman’s band as trumpeter, Hefti was heavily involved in the initial innovations of bebop which in turn made his arrangements notably exciting, and exactly what Basie needed. The album boasts a very bold, progressive structure – paying homage to Basie’s roots whilst also unflinchingly embracing change. The first half is fast-paced and full of energy, recalling the forties heyday of Count Basie’s Orchestra. Then starting with “Midnite Blue,” the album slows down for a hazy stroll to the finish, with daring solos from Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Eddie Jones woven throughout. The real takeaway is the seamless blending of players, old and new, as a complete unit, which ultimately serves to uphold Basie’s title as one of the greatest band leaders in history. 

To work out how to take the music forward, it’s important that we take the time to celebrate its past. Although we may not have had the same experiences of the musicians who inspire us, we can learn something of their lives through the music and demonstrate its importance and vitality to modern audiences. This becomes especially interesting when being performed by musicians of the same kind of age as the members of these bands were back in the day.

Mark Armstrong, Music Director



Lucy-Anne (EP quote)

“Since joining NYJO, I’m so much more confident as a performer. Especially in terms of being able to entertain and keep the crowd engaged with you. It’s really nice to be able to feel that difference.” 

Lucy-Anne, NYJO Emerging Professional (Vocals)

Georgia (EP quote)

“It’s hard to just learn this music in the practice room but being immersed in the music at NYJO is a great environment to really push my playing. ” 

Georgia Ayew, NYJO Emerging Professional (Drums)

Sam Eastmond (MD quote)

"Giving them space to create whatever they wanted, without setting parameters of idiom or style helped them to conceptualise how they could bring these new concepts into their work without scaring them off, or mystifying the process."

Sam Eastmond, NYJO Educator

Jazzwise quote

"NYJO has never been conformist, never hewing to one particular line, never known for fawning replications and very deliberately these days a vehicle for new possibilities."

Jazzwise Magazine

Lydia (EP quote)

"The past year has been an absolutely incredible experience, pushing me way out of my comfort zone into playing with some of the greatest young jazz players of my generation and getting to call them my colleagues and friends has been beyond inspiring, and also an obscene amount of fun!"

Lydia Cochrane, NYJO Emerging Professional (Saxophone)

Anna (Learning national quote)

"[The NYJO residential in Cumbria] helped me to make friends with other young musicians. I enjoy playing a lot more and I’m quite proud of what I’ve accomplished. I feel more confident now. I have learnt different ways of coming up with solid melodies and also a little bit on harmonies. I think it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had."

Anna, NYJO Learning Widening Access participant

Briony (Learning U18s quote)

"I’ve felt very fortunate to be surrounded by amazing musicians, and I think that the environment at NYJO – which has fostered creativity and improvisation – has allowed my confidence and musical ideas to grow."

Briony, NYJO Under 18s

Oscar (Learning U18s quote)

"I think I’ve progressed a lot in my piano-playing. NYJO has helped me to flourish and really enjoy it. I’ve really enjoyed being engrossed in a high level of playing and learning things in a hands-on-way. I also like the diversity of perspectives and abilities of all the players and teachers which enables me to try things I might not normally."

Oscar, NYJO Under 18s

Jennie (Learning U18s quote)

"NYJO has got me listening to more jazz and learning more changes. It has also helped with working as a band. I’ve really enjoyed the free jazz, learning by ear, the people, and the atmosphere."

Jennie, NYJO Under 18s

Leah-Anais (Learning U18s quote)

"I love the people at NYJO. Everyone here is so encouraging and lovely and it makes the experience worthwhile. Though I have fun I’m still learning on the way which makes me feel productive too."

Leah-Anais, NYJO Under 18s

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