Al Aarons was a gifted professional jazz trumpet player, the very last of the living unsung musicians to play in the original Count Basie Band. Before he died last December at the age of 84, Aarons sat down with our cameras to tell the story of his incredible career…
The Basie Days, Hollywood, TV and Recording, The L.A. Jazz Caravan
...the beginnings in Pittsburgh and Detroit, the middle years with Basie all over the world, and later years in the pit on Broadway and in Hollywood working television specials, and being a much in demand studio musician, making records with all of the greats.
Here is a brief clip from the film...
Growing up in Pittsburgh in the late 30s, Al was introduced to the trumpet by an uncle at the age of 8. Music was his life from then on. After high school, he joined the Air Force in the early 50’s. The experience shielded him from the segregation slurs experienced by most young African Americans. At the time he was the only black player in his Air Force band!
The Flame Show Bar. Berry Gordy and his sisters were the House Photographers and PR's.
He moved to Detroit in 1954 when a relative got him a job sweeping floors at Chrysler. That was his day job. His nights were spent playing trumpet at the Flame Show Bar. Berry Gordy, and his sisters Anna and Gwen were the house photographers. The band leader was Maurice King. Some of the people Al played behind at the Flame Show Bar included Billie Holiday, Johnny Mathis, LaVerne Baker, Betty Carter, Sam Cooke and many more. Berry Gordy and his sisters co-wrote "Lonely Tear Drops" in 1958 for Jackie Wilson, from which they made enough money to start Motown in 1959. Maurice King, the band leader, went on to be the lead arranger for Motown.
Detroit’s influence on Al was immense. He was meeting and working with Barry Harris, Yusef Lateef, Kirk Lightsey, Kenny Burrell, Curtis Fuller, George Benson, Joe Henderson, Pepper Adams , Tommy Flanagan, Ron Carter, Donald Byrd, Al Heard, and John Coltrane.
Frank, Ella and Count Basie in Vegas
Al worked and traveled on the road with Wild Bill Davis, (arranged "April in Paris," a huge hit for Basie). In Washington, DC Count Basie came into Abarts, the club, to see Wild Bill Davis and heard Al play. The Count told Al he may call him to join the band. In 1961, Basie called, and Al played in the band for almost a decade as it toured world-wide. During this period he recorded two albums in studio with Sinatra and did “Sinatra at the Sands with Count Basie live.
The Duke and The Count
After the Basie years, Quincy Jones invited Al to be part of his new television show, and Al spent the 70s and 80s, recording with many musicians at Capital Records and A&M, trumpeting on over 100 albums, working with Henry Mancini, appearing on many television shows including many Grammy and Academy Award Shows, spending time working on Broadway, and lending his sound on close to 200 motion picture sound tracks.
Maurice King, Wild Bill Davis, Quincy Jones, Henry Mancini...Aarons worked with them all over a lifetime.
Into the 90s, as he started to slow down and “settle down”, Al created the LA Jazz Caravan, entertaining and working with elementary school kids during Black History Month.
On The Bus With Basie, is a double DVD package featuring the Al Aarons Archive, a one-hour+ uncut, unedited Aarons talking about his life, touring with the Basie Band, the trumpet, and how it all came together in his remarkable career AND a 32 minute illustrated, non-commercial film pilot highlighting key interview content.
Purchase On The Bus With Basie, The Al Aarons Interview Archive Double DVD $250