With rock ’n’ roll eclipsing big bands by the ’50s, even the greatest of bandleaders faced a period of reassessment, and Bill “Count” Basie was no exception. Thankfully Norman Granz and Verve Records did much to extend Basie’s reign in the postwar period. And with the arrival of fresh band members—very fine composer-arrangers among them—Basie’s “New Testament” period was off and running. April in Paris was one of the landmarks, and the centerpiece was “Wild Bill” Davis’ arrangement of the Vernon Duke/”Yip” Harburg title track, with its easy glide and over-the-top false endings (“let’s try it one more once!”).
Basie’s “Old Testament” lineup of the mid-’30s had defined the Kansas City jazz sound and loosed the incredible Lester Young on the world. The Basie band of April in Paris could swing as hard (hear Joe Newman’s “Midgets” and Frank Wess’ “Magic”), but the aesthetic was generally more polished, the songs more written, than the spontaneous “head arrangements” of yore. Frank Foster’s “Shiny Stockings,” with a swing feel so relaxed it floats, is a key example. Foster also wrote “Didn’t You?” and arranged Ellington’s “What Am I Here For?” and Mario Bauzá’s “Mambo Inn,” while fellow saxophonist Ernie Wilkins, a force in his own right, contributed “Sweetie Cakes.” Entries from Old Testament rhythm guitar veteran Freddie Green (“Corner Pocket”) and the great Neal Hefti (“Dinner with Friends”) round it out. Trumpeter Thad Jones, trombonist Benny Powell, and other superb talents began to emerge under Basie’s wing.