Before World War II, when I went to work at the Washington Post, our capital city was strictly a Southern town. (I had black friends, but the only place where we could have dinner together in public was at the restaurant in Union Station.)
In addition to a customary job at the paper, I had a Sunday jazz column, plus regular programs on WRC (NBC) and WINX (a local station). One Washington week, the Count Basie orchestra was at the Howard, a black theater, while the Bob Crosby orchestra was at the whites-only Earle. (Bob was Bing’s brother.)
Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if some of the Basie and Crosby musicians could get together to jam. The Howard manager “owed me.” He agreed to let me have the Howard stage after hours. Basie then said he’d show up with key men.
The Crosby part was stickier. His was older-style music, Dixieland. It was the opposite of the hard-driving, Kansas City jazz of the Basie band. Furthermore, the Crosbyites were white, largely Southern; and the proposed session was to be at the Howard, in Washington’s “Harlem.” Finally, Basie’s group included two of jazz’s greatest tenor saxes, Lester Young and Hershel Evans. Playing next ot these giants could be uncomfortable. But Bob, with little hesitation, said, OK.
Crosby’s contingent included bassist Bob Haggart and the drummer Ray Bauduc, a duo that, on its own, had just had a huge, hit record, “Big Noise from Winnetka.” Also attending was Eddie Miller, a top white tenor sax, and clarinetist Matty Matlock. The Count served as pianist.
Listening to this rare session were fewer than a dozen guests, including Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, sons of the Turkish Ambassador (and eventual founders of Atlantic Records). The music, though containing stars from disparate styles, came off smoothly. As it turned out, a now-legendary event was created!