William James “Count” Basie (1904-1984) was one of the supreme jazz bandleaders in the great days of swing. A new 75-minute documentary about him, Count Basie Through His Own Eyes, will receive its first UK TV screening on BBC FOUR on 23 October at 9pm. Peter Vacher, who was jazz advisor to the production, explains some of the background to Sebastian:
LondonJazz News: At what stage were you brought in to this documentary, and what was your role?
Peter Vacher: I was asked to assist the director Jeremy Marre at a quite late stage in the editing process, in mid-2018. I was invited to join him and his chief editor, Sheryl Sandler at a Central London editing suite and to participate in the editing. My role was essentially to be the jazz fact-checker. Jeremy was a hugely experienced maker of music documentaries but not a jazz specialist. I was there to ensure that the narrative was faithful to the Basie career facts, to identify key players and sometimes, to identify tune titles, as they related to the music footage that was included. Jeremy was also very open to suggestions about emphasis etc. He had long since completed his series of US interviews but was still finalising his selection of performance footage so there were points that needed to be checked and that’s where I came in. I had known many of the Basie sidemen over the years and could provide insights which arose from direct observation. Jeremy seemed to value that.
LJN: I understand that the director Jeremy Marre has sadly not lived to see the film reach the screen. What’s the story?
PV: He and I had remained in regular contact long after the film was completed in November 2018 and there had been no indication of illness. He was in good voice and we e-mailed regularly, mostly bemoaning the delays in getting the film on the air. He died aged 76 on 15 March 2020 in hospital in London. Both the New York Times and the Guardian published extensive and highly appreciative obituaries. He was a delight to be around, calm and very objective, yet hugely engaged and enthused by the project. I thought him an admirable person and I was much greatly saddened when I learned of his death.
LJN: What would you say was the appeal of the film to people unfamiliar with the Basie story?
PV: What Jeremy sought to show was the nature and character of Basie beyond the footlights; he had managed to gain access to the Basie estate’s archive of private correspondence and family home-movies, all of which showed a very warm and human side to this essential rather private man, even as he was one of the most prominent and celebrated of swing bandleaders.
LJN: And for those jazz people who think they know everything, have Marre and his team been able to unearth some new and interesting material ?
PV: We’re back to the private Basie. There;s plenty about his relationships with his musicians and a number comment on this. There’s a fair degree of insight into his philandering and gambling habits. So, yes, plenty new, and also plenty of music and commentary to enjoy.
LJN: And when is it on?
PV: It’s on BBC4 TV on Friday, 23 October 2020 at 9.00pm. Don’t miss it!