BILL HUGHES, or “Mr. B” – as he’s affectionately called by the younger members of the ensemble – joined The Count Basie Orchestra in September 1953 on a recommendation by the legendary saxophonist/flautist Frank Wess. A 1952 product of Howard University School of Pharmacy and a self-taught trombonist, Hughes had previously performed with Wess in various-sized groups and in a house band that Wess led at the world famous Howard Theater in Washington, DC. It was at that same time Hughes was invited to join the Duke Ellington Orchestra. He chose the CBO, where he would be more comfortable with friends like Frank Wess, Eddie Jones, and Benny Powell.
Hughes played the tenor trombone in a three-man section, which included Henry Coker and Powell. This was at one time acclaimed as the best trombone section in jazz and their names appeared in several polls, then popular in jazz magazines. During this period Hughes traveled the world with Basie, including the very first trip to Europe for the orchestra. It was also during this time period Basie was to record several of his timeless hits, including “Shiny Stockings,” “Corner Pocket,” and the famous rendition of the classic “April In Paris.”
With the Count and even after his demise, Hughes has played at every major jazz festival in the world, including the Newport Jazz Festival, the North Sea Jazz Festival, the Montreux and Berne Festivals of Switzerland, the Jazz and Heritage Festival of New Orleans, the Montreal and Toronto Jazz Festivals, and many other festivals, concert halls, jazz clubs, and the like in Germany, Australia, the Far East, South America, the Caribbean, and, of course, the United States.
In addition to the numerous recordings with Count Basie and The Count Basie Orchestra – including 15 of the 18 Grammy winning recordings – Hughes has recorded with such luminaries as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Tony Bennett, Billy Eckstine, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Lena Horne, Nat “King” Cole, and Rosemary Clooney, and has performed in concert with all of the above. He also performed in a solo context with other greats such as Osie Johnson, Kenny Clark, and Tee Carson.
Hughes has appeared with The Count Basie Orchestra in two separate Royal Command performances for the Queen of England, one performance for Prince Albert of Monaco, and one performance for the King of Thailand. He also appeared in two movies with The Count (Cinderfella with Jerry Lewis and Sex And The Single Girl with Henry Fonda and Lauren Bacall) and the biography Last of the Blue Devils.
From September 1953 until September of 1957, Hughes performed continuously with The Count Basie Orchestra. He took a 6-year break from touring to help raise his family and returned to the road in July 1963, where he has since remained.