March, 1940: Basie at the Southland Cafe
Business was brisk and the talent considerable at the Southland Cafe in Boston, upstairs at 76 Warrenton Street (where the Charles Playhouse is today), as 1940 got underway. First Duke Ellington, then Jack Teagarden, then Teddy Powell, and on February 19, Count Basie rolled in for a four-week stay. Basie was broadcasting nationwide over the NBC Blue network in February and March that year.
Southland had been Boston’s top downtown spot for jazz since its opening in September 1937, and since April 1939 it had been booking name bands exclusively. For the bands, Southland was a prized booking, because the club booked for two- or even four-week engagements, giving the bands a respite from the buses and the one-nighters.
This was the Basie band in all its pre-war glory: Buck Clayton, Sweets Edison, Vic Dickenson, Dicky Wells, Lester Young, Buddy Tate, and others—as well as the now-immortal rhythm section of Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, and Basie himself.
Radio was a critical part of building a band, and Southland hosted many remote broadcasts over the NBC Blue network. The program’s announcer was Fred B. Cole of WBZ radio, who for years was the voice of the big bands on NBC. Many of these broadcasts have made their way on to LPs and CDs over the years, including those of Chick Webb, Harry James, Duke Ellington, and this Basie band.
Here’s a video of the Basie band in 1940 that features Jimmy Rushing singing (well, he’s lip-syncing) “Take Me Back Baby.” It’s what you might have heard at Southland in March 1940.