Kansas City Suite: Still Rare, Still Wonderful

Nearly two years ago, I wrote about a Benny Carter masterpiece that received raves from musicians and critics after Count Basie recorded it for Roulette in 1960. Kansas City Suite went out of print as an LP, had a brief revival as a Capitol CD in 1990, sold poorly and has all but disappeared.
Kansas City Suite .jpgBasie’s so-called “new testament” band included Thad Jones, Joe Newman, Frank Wess, Frank Foster, Marshall Royal, Benny Powell, Al Grey and the great latterday Basie rhythm section. They gave Carter’s work a memorable performance. Despite clamoring by insistent bloggers (present company not excepted) for a new reissue, the Basie version is so rare as to be nearly a myth. One internet search for “Kansas City Suite” turned up an ad for hotel rooms. The recording is available only as a used LP, if you’re lucky enough to find one, or an MP3 download. The Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra revived the suite for a concert in 2008, but live performances of the music are all too infrequent. Fortunately, one movement was captured on video while Carter was alive.
At the Berlin Jazz Fest in 1989, Carter and the WDR Big Band played the opening movement of the suite, with John Clayton conducting. Notice Clayton looking boyish and Carter, who was eighty-two, only slightly older.

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  1. says

    Just in case anyone’s interested, there’s an Italian issue, Count Basie Plays the Music of Neal Hefti and Benny Carter (Giants of Jazz CD53040), which has *almost* the whole Kansas City Suite.

  2. Charlton Price says

    It’s a joy, for sure. You can see how happy they are to be playing for and with Benny. I have some Clark Terry CDs with the WDR, special arrangements done just for CT. Choice!
    Surely the Kansas City Suite will get reissued. Somehow.

  3. Bill Kirchner says

    Fortunately, Bob Curnow at Sierra Music* published the entire suite (all 10 charts) a few years ago. It’s now being played by school bands all over the world. It should be in the library of every scholastic jazz program that has a good big band.

  4. Gary Walters says

    That would be “Baron” John Von Ohlen, playing the drums (with the WDR) on this one. Maybe he was a guest of the festival as well?

  5. Hans Doerrscheidt says

    Another video of BC playing that very same composition can be found here:
    Count Basie Orchestra Live in Vienne, France 1997, featuring BC as special guest soloist.
    The arrangement from the WDR clip seems to be a John Clayton ‘update’ of Carter’s original. The Basie 1997 clip uses the original Carter arr.

  6. says

    Well, you’d have to search for it, and probably pay big bucks on eBay or such, but “Kansas City Suite” is included in the Mosaic 10-CD package of the Complete Roulette Studio Recordings of Count Basie (MD 10-149).
    I must admit I’m surprised the Andorreans haven’t done the frequent bootleg and simply lifted the Suite from that package and sent it out…

  7. Michael Marano says

    There’s a single used CD copy at Amazon.com on 03/13/2010. It’s not too pricey, but if the music’s this bloody good and the CD’s just as rare, the sum may be just right. By the way, I scored the former second copy at Amazon for the same price. A bargain by my measure.
    And thanks for the heads-up!

  8. Paul Roberts says

    Holy crap! A left handed trombone player! That would be impossible on my bass trombone. I’d have the triggers going into my ears!

  9. says

    Wow, this is a great side! I stumbled across a copy (LP) in a goodwill today. I had no idea it was rare until I did research this afternoon.