William “Count” Basie

William Basie was born in Red Bank, New Jersey in 1904 where he learned piano from his mother. His more advanced training came from the stride pianists of Harlem, particularly Fats Waller. He went on to perform in groups, accompanying vaudeville performers, playing for silent movie theatres as well as travelling and it was this travelling that took him to Kansas City where Walter Page’s Blue Devils and Benny Moten helped to finish off his education. When Benny Moten died in 1935, Basie put together a group called the “Barons of Rhythm” with many of Moten’s players including Walter Page, Freddie Green and Lester Young, his first big band. Jimmy Rushing was the vocalist. It was also in Kansas City on a local radio show that an announcer first called him “Count” Basie.

In 1936, he and his group went from Kansas City to Chicago and eventually to the Roseland Ballroom in New York City. It was during this time that “One O’clock Jump” was recorded and became his theme song.

With the exception of a couple of years in the early 1950’s when he led a smaller group, Count Basie had a big band for almost 50 years and, as such, he was one of the most important band leaders of the swing/jazz era. Ellington was a composer . . . Goodman was a soloist . . . but Basie’s instrument was his band . . . one of the “swingin’est” groups ever put together! In the late 1950’s, his band won awards for the best “Dance Band” and best “Jazz Performance”, both at the same time.

After combining with Frank Sinatra’s Reprise record label in the early 1960’s, his “This Time by Basie! Hits of the 50’s and 60’s” reached the Top 20 and earned a 1963 Grammy Award for the Best Performance by an Orchestra for Dancing . . . yes, Dancing . . . something that most people, particularly their ardent jazz fans, have forgotten. He continued to hit the charts including collaborations with Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr. and the Mills Brothers, among many others. The Count Basie Orchestra earned 18 Grammy Awards in its lifetime.

Basie died in 1984, almost 50 years after his first big band started in Kansas City, a track record that is envied by everyone in the music business!