Tim: When did you start your gig with the Count Basie band? What year did you start?
Kenny: 1977, since 1977.
Tim: Musically, what were your responsibilities as a tenor saxist? To fill the gig.
Kenny: In the soloing area, to get out and say something. Express yourself and not mess up. And just do your job. Plus the things that’s in the back of your mind is all the tenor players that came before you, Lester Young, Wardell Grey, Frank Foster, Lockjaw Davis, Frank Wess! All those people, put a pressure on you to live up to the chair you’re in. Before this gig I was in Las Vegas playing shows and such. I was born and raised around Portland, Oregon, I played clarinet when I was a kid and started sax in high school. I wanted to be an alto player but there were more gigs on tenor, so I went for it. I played in society bands to start out, and Mickey Mouse bands. I never had real jazz experience in Portland, except going to jam sessions. All my gigs were society gigs. Looking back on it, it was good for me ’cause I sure learned a lot of tunes.
Today, a young player can’t get that experience ’cause that kind of thing is gone today.
Tim: Well, more than anything, disc jockeys killed that part of the business off. People hire a D.J. today for under a $100.00 and it’s impossible to even get steady work at those gigs today. Its rare, and it hurts the youth!
Kenny: It sure does. You got to play for dances and society gigs to cut your teeth, so to speak.
That experience is not to be had these days. Those kind of gigs are gone.
As a kid I listened to a lot of Stan Getz. I was a junior in high school. He was a god to me! That was something I grew out of many years later. I used to listen to Zoot Sims around when I was 22 or 23. I inherited a collection of Charlie Parker records on Savoy. That was when I first started listening to be-bop.
Also Eric Dixon introduced me to Dave Gonsalves and Lucky Thompson, Don Byas and Colman Hawkins, who are sort of my idols today. I never got into Chu Berry; that’s a project I got to get into.
My exposure was that stuff.
Tim: Reflect on Eric Dixon’s greatness. He was probably one of the unsung masters of the tenor, though he’s really not well known.
Kenny: Expression of sound! Eric had a sound; his presence of sound was enveloping. He never blew hard, nothing fancy. I was very envious of his sound. That body of sound he had, it was one of a kind. It was such a full sound. After Eric played, he made everything else sound so puny and small.
Ya know, we talk about him every day on the Basie band; we talk about that cat all the time. He was one of a kind.
Remember when Eric left Basie’s band, all the Quincy Jones records he did in New York. On those records Eric was playing his ass off. It gives me pleasure to think of that music and Eric Dixon.
Tim: What do you practice?
Kenny: Something with a lot of long tones in it, maybe a ballad like “Laura”. And concentrate on tone and not changes, ’cause your tone comes first. Your sound got to come out. Sustain the tone like a singer and work on sound. I sometimes practice this etude book by Ferling called “48 Etudes”. I think it used to be oboe studies; it’s a killer to get through the slow, largo things in here.
And when you play something largo, you realize how much you stink.
Tim: What are some Basie records you’re on that you feel represent your best playing?
Kenny: I’ve done a lot with Basie, but the record we did with Sara Vaughn called “Send in the Clowns” is nice. I had a solo on “All The Things You Are” that I felt good about. Also a small group record with Basie, “Farmer’s Market”. One side is a big band and the other side is a small group jam session. The tune I like is “St. Louis Blues”. Both records are on Pablo record label. I really don’t listen to myself on records a lot, but those solos I feel good about.
There is something I’d like to pass on to the younger players that I feel is important.
That is, don’t overplay, and play everything you know in one solo, at the same volume. Mix it up, play some stop time, or mix it up a bit. Don’t overkill something, if it’s really happening, sure, go on with it, but try to play with good taste like the masters did. That’s all!
the way....also check out Hings section mate;
Alto saxophone legend Jackie Kelso.
If your looking to hear someone who not onlyswings the Basie
Bands sax section but is someone who Ernie Watts loves- Listen to Jackie Kelso.
This man has some real secrets as far as his phrasing and note choice.
A living legend and a person to really check out.
You can't mention the Basie sax section with
out a tip of the hat to my man John Williams.
John Williams is a anchor man on bari within
the Basie sound..but also a living legend in R&B/Rock L.A
sessions from the 60's.
Adding bass clarinet to records by " Canned Heat" or on the
spot Bari sax parts to things by Ike Turner and many more.
Having a section of Kenny Hing, Jackie Kelso and John Williams
is something of extreme quality and a must to study for any serious sax player.
John Williams rocks!!!! <And- is a cool friend
jACKIE kELSO & jOHN IN THE BASIE SAX SECTION.