William Basie (1904 -1984)

Bandleader and Pianist

Here are some of Count's greatest hits:

Jumpin' at the Woodside
Sent for You Yesterday and Here You Come Today

William James Basie was born to Harvey Lee Basie, and Lillian Ann Childs, who lived on Mechanic Street in Red Ban, New Jersy. His mother gave Basie his first piano lessons when he was a kid. Basie was not much of a scholar and instead dreamed of a traveling life, inspired by the carnivals which came to town. He only attended school to junior high school. Basie preferred drums, though he was a natural at the piano. However, Sonny Greer (who was Duke Elington's drummer from 1919 to 1951), discouraged Basie with his obvious talents of another young Red Bank area drummer, and he switched to piano exclusively by age 15. When not playing a gig, he picked up on upcoming play dates and gossip at the local pool hall from other musicians.
While he was playing at the Hongkong Inn he got some jobs in Asbury Park New Jersy, until he was replaced by a better player. It was around 1924 when he decided to go to Harlem. There he met up with Sonny and also got to meet some other Harlem musicians who were making the scene. Basie was a soloist and accompanist to blues singers Katie Krippen and Gonzelle White while he toured between 1925 and 1927, . With them he went to Kansas city, St. Louis, New Orleans, and Chicago while on tour he met many great jazz musicians, like Louis Armstrong. In 1925 he went back to Harlem and got his first regular job at Leroy’s, a place known for its piano players, where many celebrities hung out. The band usually played without music making it up as they went, a style almost exclusive to jazz called improv. He met Fats Waller, who was playing organ at the Lincoln Theater. Waller taught him how to play the organ where he worked accompaning silent movies. Willie "the Lion" Smith helped Basie out when there was not much work, arranging gigs at house-rent parties, where he met other important musicians.
Count Basie left the Blue Devils in 1929 to go to Bennie Moten's band. He was followed by Jimmy Rushing, Hot Lips Page, Eddie Durham and Ben Webster, this formed the nucleus of the future Count Basie Orchestra which started in 1952. When Bennie Moten passed away in 1935, Basie took over forming his own 9 piece group, Barons of Rhythm, that included tenor saxophonist Lester Young and drummer Jo Jones. they attracted quite a bit of attention through live broadcasts from the Reno Club. Basie's frequent playing with the rhythm section alone intensified their style was a powerful swing, giving the band a unique sound and identity. Basie got his name "Count" when he finnally raised his stature in the community to an even keel with Duke Ellington. Initially, his band didn't cause much stir when booked for a run at Chicago's Grand Terrace, but by expanding to 15 members before his next engagement at New York's Famous Door on 52nd Street, the band took off. The audiences came in droves after their early efforts being rough, their exuberance and enthusiasm really hit it off. In 1950 Basie and his band called it a day, it was too hard for big bands to play once WWII started. By 1952, he was back in the game. He played in an orchestra that included saxophonists Frank Foster and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, trumpeters Joe Newman and Thad Jones and the eloquent, rugged blues singer Joe Williams. This group played backup to many legendary performers such as Tony Bennet, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Bing Crosby and Sammy Davis Jr.. William "Count" Basie continued to play a more varied repertoire that included the pop music of the day through the 60's and 70's . He played right up into his 70's, though hampered by illness, he was still irrepressible at the key board until his death caused by Pancreatic Cancer in April of 1984.


Count Basie (2 March 2011) <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Count_Basie> Web.Bennie Moten (22 February 2011) <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bennie_Moten> Web.Count Basie (2004-2007) <www.swingmusic.net/Count_Basie.html> Web.