Leader of one of the best-loved and swinging ensembles of the Big Band era (and beyond), the immortal Count Basie was born today in 1904.
Jazz great William Basie aka Count Basie born, Red Bank, New Jersey, USA. The “Kid from Red Bank” was just a teenager when he formed his first band, leading them on the piano after switching from his original chosen instrument, the drums (also dabbling with the organ under the tutelage of Fats Waller).
Deputising for Waller in the vaudeville show Katie Crippen and her Kids gave Basie his first professional engagement and he later toured with rival act the Gonzel White show. Playing Kansas City in 1928, the ensemble broke up suddenly, leaving Basie in need of a gig – joining Walter Page’s Blue Devils for a year at the invitation of singer, Jimmy Rushing.
Moving on to the Bennie Moten band, Basie would lead a reformed version following Moten’s death in 1935, initially with a residency at the Reno Club in Kansas. Invited to New York by producer John Hammond in 1936, (after he heard them on a radio broadcast), Basie’s band soon became recording stars and a celebrated live act.
Personnel changes meant that the orchestra would continually evolve over the following six decades, with a who’s who of great soloists passing through, including Lester Young, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Illinois Jacquet and J.J. Johnson – retaining Basie’s 1937 hit, ”One O’Clock Jump” as their theme tune.
Featuring vocalists as diverse as Billy Eckstine, Joe Williams, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, Basie maintained his position as a pre-eminent force in jazz and earned a reputation for as a composer and shrewd collaborator with successive arrangers, Neal Hefti and Ernie Wilkins giving the ensemble renewed swing in the 1950s.
Continuing to play and record in the following decades, Basie only partially recovering from a heart attack in 1976 and succumbed to pancreatic cancer in April 1984. He was 79. However his Orchestra remains active – collecting Grammy awards for their albums in both 1997 and 1999.
Check out and purchase Count Basie CDs from our e-shop, Propermusic.com by clicking on the logo below:
And here’s some footage of the Count in action: