Carmen Bradford and The Count Basie Orchestra: big band jazz

An interview with Carmen Bradford for Jazz Australia.

You haven’t lived until you’ve felt the full acoustic blast of a big band.

Swing royalty, Carmen Bradford, is an unstoppable musical force. In July and August we get the chance to see her join the Count Basie Orchestra to performing a tribute to Bradford’s heroine Ella Fitzgerald and jazz great Louis Armstrong.

Basie was regarded as one of the finest big band leaders in jazz.  Leading his orchestra for nearly 50 years, playing simple, often bluesy arrangements where the focus was on the easy rhythmic feel. The Orchestra played with all the vocal greats – Billie Holiday, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan and especially Ella Fitzgerald.

The New York Post claims that the Count Basie Orchestra is “the greatest big band working today”. The orchestra is the living embodiment of swing, which one of the most elegant and irresistible sounds that ever shook the western world.

Today’s 18-piece Count Basie Orchestra, directed by veteran trumpeter Scotty Barnhart, features a peerless array of instrumentalists with combined credentials that have topped the upper echelons of the international jazz world for decades.

Carmen Bradford was personally invited by Count Basie to join his big band as a 22-year-old woman in the early 1980s and has played on and off with them since. She’s had a spectacular solo career as well, recording solo albums and performing on four Grammy Award-winning albums with artists including Tony Bennett, James Brown, Wynton Marsalis, Frank Sinatra and George Benson. Her body of work reflects a vast depth of musical experience and technical brilliance.

So how does it feel to perform this tribute to the great Ella Fitzgerald?

“It’s such a pleasure, such an honour. I do hope Ella’s proud of what I’m doing and the tunes I’m performing on the show,” says Bradford.

“When I joined Count Basie we performed with Ella twice. I met her when I was about 9 years old at the Neiman Marcus Department store when I was shopping with my mother (Carmen’s mother Melba Joyce was a world-renowned singer and composer, her dad was Bobby Bradford legendary trumpeter and composer and her grandfather, Melba’s dad, Melvin Moore sang with among others, Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band in the 1940’s.)


“Ella was shopping in the perfume department. I saw her again when I was 12, then again when I was 17 in the same department! My mom knew her and we always stopped to chat.

“I saw her there again one more time when I was a bit older. At last I was brave enough to introduce myself and I told her I had a job with Count Basie.

“Several weeks later I saw her in London and got to open for her and then we did Carnegie Hall. On my second solo album I sang Mr Paganini as a tribute to her. I made sure she got a copy of that album. And she told me she loved it. She loved it!

“After she passed away in 1996, I went to her estate sale in her home. In her bedroom, I saw that my CD case was on her bedside table with a tiny boombox. In the boombox was one CD – mine. I cried like a baby. It’s so huge to think she was listening to me at the end of her life.”




Tour dates:
Monday 30 July  Auckland ASB Theatre
Tuesday 31 July  Canberra Canberra Theatre
Wednesday 1 Aug     Brisbane  QPAC Concert Hall
Thursday 2 Aug    Sydney  Sydney Opera House, Concert Hall
Friday 3 Aug         Melbourne Arts Centre Melbourne, Hamer Hall