Count Basie: Then as Now, Count’s the King
Starz Denver Film Festival
Directed by Gary Keys

I like to see documentaries at the Starz Denver Film Festival because they don’t show at nearby theaters. We truly are doubly blessed in the Denver-Boulder area: we have the film festival, and when that’s over, we can go to Video Station, which has everything, including a large collection of documentaries.

The first and last thing I noticed about this Count Basie movie was how cool the director, Gary Keys, was. His first film played the Denver Film Festival in the 1980s. Before that, he was an art director at MOMA and concert promoter, so that’s how he met all these jazz types. He knew Sinatra, Basie, Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis.

He produced the first pop concert at Lincoln Center (the Supremes) and sold them as the “modern-day Andrews Sisters.” The crowd at Lincoln Center was so hyped up at the end of the show that staff wanted to call the police, but Keys said, “No, no,” and had the Supremes come back out and sing the line, “Stop, in the name of love!” I wondered if he was having us on.

The first thing I noticed about Basie himself in the movie was his lovely eyes. I would call them “Egyptian eyes.” I’ll bet he had the ladies coming and going.

The movie spent most of its time listening to members of Count Basie’s band, sitting around a table, reminiscing. And one of them—speaking of ladies coming and going—recalled a night soon after his wedding, when his new wife was in the audience and his mistress started following her around. He got so mad he ran off the stage and chased the mistress out of the theater and still managed to make it back for the end of the song.

No word on whether he kept the old mistress or got a new one.

They talked about Lester Young, how he did everything different—how he famously held his tenor saxophone up sideways—”he was from somewhere else,” one of them said.

I went to this movie to listen to the music, and I wasn’t disappointed. When the director said, “Count Basie made you want to dance,” he was so right. There was a lot of great music, including vocals by Billie Holiday and Joe Williams and Ella Fitzgerald (at the very end), but I did wish Keys would have included more entire songs.

My husband didn’t like it as much as I did. He wanted more about Basie himself. To be honest, I got the impression that the movie might not be quite finished, that its makers were using the film festival as a way to gauge audience reaction. One of the questions on the survey form was about the title, which I disliked, and the television footage shown in the film was just awful (Todd’s suggestion was “video tiling”).

Amazing and Hilarious
Two passages from the movie in which Jerry Lewis pantomimes Basie songs. You can see them in “The Errand Boy” and “Jerry Lewis Does the Dishes” on YouTube.

Another Reason to See Blazing Saddles Again
Basie’s band plays in the middle of the desert.

A Memorable Gesture
To get his huge band to go all out, Basie would raise his index finger.

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Leave A Comment

  1. BernardL November 18, 2008 at 8:03 am - Reply

    I’m not much on documentaries, but that sounds like a good one.

  2. Denveater November 18, 2008 at 8:25 am - Reply

    Since it seems you’re intrerested in both docs and cooking, don’t miss Pressure Cooker at this year’s festival. It’s like Rocky with toques instead of gloves.

    More info here

    and here

  3. Beth November 18, 2008 at 9:39 am - Reply


    I’ll have to check it out. I was just wondering this morning what other movies I should see.

  4. Beth November 18, 2008 at 9:45 am - Reply

    Bernard, it wasn’t the greatest documentary I’ve ever seen, but the music was nice.

  5. douglas November 21, 2008 at 1:56 pm - Reply

    Gary was cool before cool was cool.

  6. Beth Partin November 21, 2008 at 2:37 pm - Reply

    He has been around a while hasn’t he? Thanks for visiting, douglas.