Celebrating the life of



Celebrating the life of ‘The Gentleman from Red Bank’
of Basie’s life
reveal his mettle

This photo of William "Count" Basie during a recording session with singer Tony Bennett is included in "The Gentleman from Red Bank" exhibit.This photo of William “Count” Basie during a recording session with singer Tony Bennett is included in “The Gentleman from Red Bank” exhibit.

Before Bruce or Bon Jovi had the beat, there was Basie. The notable jazz musician William “Count” Basie was born in Red Bank on Aug. 21, 1904.

The 100th anniversary of Basie’s birth is the occasion for a series of commemorative events in his hometown put together by the Count Basie Centennial Committee, which was formed to celebrate his legacy.

One of these, “The Gentleman from Red Bank: Swinging the Blues,” an exhibit of photographs, records, awards, concert programs and other memorabilia, opened July 15 in Red Bank.

The commemorative exhibit fits perfectly into its home in the vintage space at 17 E. Front St., Red Bank, that formerly was the site of Riverview Medical Center’s Ye Olde Thrift Shoppe. The exhibit is free and open to the public Saturdays and Sundays, 1-5 p.m., through Aug. 29.

Exhibit curator Lauren Grabelle chose to focus on Count Basie the man instead of the renowned jazz musician the “Kid from Red Bank” grew up to be.

“I am not a jazz aficionado, so I could not come at it from that angle,” she explained. “I immediately connected with the quality of person he was. I became enamored with him and felt he really deserved to be celebrated,” she said. “He was a gentleman; people enjoyed working with him throughout his career.”

Grabelle, of Tinton Falls, was chosen to curate the Basie exhibit after meeting Chase Jackson, co-chair of the Count Basie Centennial Committee, at a party.

“I overheard her talking about events that were being planned for the centennial and I approached her and said, ‘I’m a photographer,’ and six months later here we are.”

A long-held interest had prompted her to speak up.

“I had always wanted to curate an exhibit, to see if I could do that,” she said, “and I also wanted to do something for the community.”

Grabelle will remain involved with the exhibit for the next five to six months as it travels to other sites, then plans to follow up her first curatorial gig with an exhibit of production stills from Thomas Edison’s films made during 1913-15, which have never before been seen by the public.

Grabelle reached out to several sources and was able to borrow about half of the photographs in the Basie exhibit from the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University.

Much of the memorabilia was lent by the William J. Basie Trust, which oversees the rights to a large collection of Basie memorabilia including The Count’s Grammy awards and the organ he played.

With a limited budget to work with, Grabelle used her ingenuity and surfed the Net, coming up with many items she purchased on eBay like copies of a 1958 Downbeat Magazine, a 1957 concert program and a commemorative postal stamp issued in 1996.

“It’s the modern way of curating,” she said, adding, “I did get outbid on some items.”

Rare items in the exhibit include a pair of tickets to a concert that were priced differently for spectators and those who planned to boogie along with the big band. Spectators paid $1 for a ticket, while those who planned to strut their stuff paid $1.75.

Another find was the cover of a 331/3 LP album “Count Basie at the Piano,” a 1938 Decca release. The cover design is a flowing yellow, white and black piano keyboard and lists songs on the LP including “Boogie Woogie” and “Hey Lawdy Mama.”

Other memorabilia include family photos, a poster-size photo from a recording session with singer Tony Bennett, photos of Basie with “Rat Pack” members Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra, a still photo from Basie’s cameo in the film “Blazing Saddles” and a still glittering gold record of “Sinatra at the Sands with Count Basie and the Orchestra” that racked up more than $1 million in sales.

Designed to travel, the exhibit will make its next stop at Wilson Hall at Monmouth Uni-versity in West Long Branch, Sept. 13-30; WBGO/88.3 FM Studio Gallery in Newark, Oct. 21 through Dec.17; and the New Jersey State House Annex in Trenton, Jan. 10-14.

Upcoming centennial events include:

+ Concert appearance by the Count Basie Orchestra with vocalist Nneena Freelon at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, Aug. 20;

+ “One O’Clock Jump Concert,” Aug. 21, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., featuring the Jon Faddis Orchestra, a free concert at Riverside Memorial Gardens Park on East Front Street in Red Bank.

More information on Centennial events is available at www.countbasiecentennial.org.

For Grabelle, “The Gentle-man from Red Bank” does more than celebrate a life in the spotlight, it gives the measure of the man.

“I hope people come away with a sense of the quality of the person he was,” she said, “the amount of respect he received, given the time he lived in, even posthumously. That you can still be incredibly kind, even with huge success.”