|Birth name||William James Basie|
|Born||(1904-08-21)August 21, 1904
Red Bank, New Jersey, U.S.
|Died||April 26, 1984(1984-04-26) (aged 79)
Hollywood, Florida, U.S.
He led the group for almost 50 years, creating innovations like the use of two "split" tenor saxophones, emphasizing the rhythm section, riffing with a big band, using arrangers to broaden their sound, and others.
Many musicians came to prominence under his direction, including the tenor saxophonists Lester Young and Herschel Evans, the guitarist Freddie Green, trumpeters Buck Clayton and Harry "Sweets" Edison, plunger trombonist Al Grey, and singers Jimmy Rushing, Helen Humes, Thelma Carpenter, and Joe Williams.
Early life and education
William Basie was born to Lillian and Harvey Lee Basie in Red Bank, New Jersey.
His father worked as a coachman and caretaker for a wealthy judge.
After automobiles replaced horses, his father became a groundskeeper and handyman for several wealthy families in the area.
Both of his parents had some type of musical background.
His father played the mellophone, and his mother played the piano; in fact, she gave Basie his first piano lessons.
She took in laundry and baked cakes for sale for a living.
She paid 25 cents a lesson for Count Basie's piano instruction.
The best student in school, Basie dreamed of a traveling life, inspired by touring carnivals which came to town.
He finished junior high school but spent much of his time at the Palace Theater in Red Bank, where doing occasional chores gained him free admission to performances.
He quickly learned to improvise music appropriate to the acts and the silent movies.
Though a natural at the piano, Basie preferred drums.
Greer and Basie played together in venues until Greer set out on his professional career.
By then, Basie was playing with pick-up groups for dances, resorts, and amateur shows, including Harry Richardson's "Kings of Syncopation".
When not playing a gig, he hung out at the local pool hall with other musicians, where he picked up on upcoming play dates and gossip.
Early after his arrival, he bumped into Sonny Greer, who was by then the drummer for the Washingtonians, Duke Ellington's early band.
Basie toured in several acts between 1925 and 1927, including Katie Krippen and Her Kiddies (featuring singer Katie Crippen) as part of the Hippity Hop show; on the Keith, the Columbia Burlesque, and the Theater Owners Bookers Association (T.O.B.A.)
Throughout his tours, Basie met many jazz musicians, including Louis Armstrong.
Before he was 20 years old, he toured extensively on the Keith and TOBA vaudeville circuits as a solo pianist, accompanist, and music director for blues singers, dancers, and comedians.
This provided an early training that was to prove significant in his later career.
Back in Harlem in 1925, Basie gained his first steady job at Leroy's, a place known for its piano players and its "cutting contests."
The place catered to "uptown celebrities," and typically the band winged every number without sheet music using "head arrangements."
(Basie later played organ at the Eblon Theater in Kansas City).
As he did with Duke Ellington, Willie "the Lion" Smith helped Basie out during the lean times by arranging gigs at "house-rent parties," introducing him to other leading musicians, and teaching him some piano technique.
A few months later, he was invited to join the band, which played mostly in Texas and Oklahoma.
It was at this time that he began to be known as "Count" Basie (see Jazz royalty).
Kansas City years
The following year, in 1929, Basie became the pianist with the Bennie Moten band based in Kansas City, inspired by Moten's ambition to raise his band to the level of Duke Ellington's or Fletcher Henderson's.
In addition to playing piano, Basie was co-arranger with Eddie Durham, who notated the music.
Their "Moten Swing", which Basie claimed credit for, was widely acclaimed and was an invaluable contribution to the development of swing music, and at one performance at the Pearl Theatre in Philadelphia in December 1932, the theatre opened its door to allow anybody in who wanted to hear the band perform.
During a stay in Chicago, Basie recorded with the band.
He occasionally played four-hand piano and dual pianos with Moten, who also conducted.
When the band voted Moten out, Basie took over for several months, calling the group "Count Basie and his Cherry Blossoms.
"When his own band folded, he rejoined Moten with a newly re-organized band.
A year later, Basie joined Bennie Moten's band, and played with them until Moten's death in 1935 from a failed tonsillectomy.
When Moten died, the band tried to stay together but couldn't make a go of it.
Basie then formed his own nine-piece band, Barons of Rhythm, with many former Moten members including Walter Page (bass), Freddie Green (guitar), Jo Jones (drums), Lester Young (tenor saxophone) and Jimmy Rushing (vocals).
The Barons of Rhythm were regulars at the Reno Club and often performed for a live radio broadcast.
During a broadcast the announcer wanted to give Basie's name some style, so he called him "Count."
Little did Basie know this touch of royalty would give him proper status and position him with the likes of Duke Ellington and Earl Hines.
Basie's new band which included many Moten alumni, with the important addition of tenor player Lester Young.
They played at the Reno Club and sometimes were broadcast on local radio.
Late one night with time to fill, the band started improvising.
Basie liked the results and named the piece "One O'Clock Jump."
We set the thing up front in D-flat, and then we just went on playing in F." It became his signature tune.
John Hammond and first recordings
At the end of 1936, Basie and his band, now billed as "Count Basie and His Barons of Rhythm," moved from Kansas City to Chicago, where they honed their repertoire at a long engagement at the Grand Terrace Ballroom.
Right from the start, Basie's band was noted for its rhythm section.
Another Basie innovation was the use of two tenor saxophone players; at the time, most bands had just one.
Many other bands later adapted the split tenor arrangement.
In that city in October 1936, the band had a recording session which the producer John Hammond later described as "the only perfect, completely perfect recording session I've ever had anything to do with".
Hammond had heard Basie's band by radio and went to Kansas City to check them out.
He invited them to record, in performances which were Lester Young's earliest recordings.
Those four sides were released on Vocalion Records under the band name of Jones-Smith Incorporated; the sides were "Shoe Shine Boy", "Evening", "Boogie Woogie", and "Lady Be Good".
When he made the Vocalion recordings, Basie had already signed with Decca Records, but did not have his first recording session with them until January 1937.
By then, Basie's sound was characterized by a "jumping" beat and the contrapuntal accents of his own piano.
His personnel around 1937 included: Lester Young and Herschel Evans (tenor sax), Freddie Green (guitar), Jo Jones (drums), Walter Page (bass), Earle Warren (alto sax), Buck Clayton and Harry Edison (trumpet), Benny Morton and Dickie Wells (trombone).
Lester Young, known as "Prez" by the band, came up with nicknames for all the other band members.
He called Basie "Holy Man", "Holy Main", and just plain "Holy".
New York City and the swing years
When Basie took his orchestra to New York in 1937, they made the Woodside Hotel in Harlem their base (they often rehearsed in its basement).
Soon, they were booked at the Roseland Ballroom for the Christmas show.
Basie recalled a review, which said something like, "We caught the great Count Basie band which is supposed to be so hot he was going to come in here and set the Roseland on fire.
Well, the Roseland is still standing".
Compared to the reigning band of Fletcher Henderson, Basie's band lacked polish and presentation.
The producer John Hammond continued to advise and encourage the band, and they soon came up with some adjustments, including softer playing, more solos, and more standards.
They paced themselves to save their hottest numbers for later in the show, to give the audience a chance to warm up.
Hammond introduced Basie to Billie Holiday, whom he invited to sing with the band.
(Holiday did not record with Basie, as she had her own record contract and preferred working with small combos).
The band's first appearance at the Apollo Theater followed, with the vocalists Holiday and Jimmy Rushing getting the most attention.
Durham returned to help with arranging and composing, but for the most part, the orchestra worked out its numbers in rehearsal, with Basie guiding the proceedings.
There were often no musical notations made.
Once the musicians found what they liked, they usually were able to repeat it using their "head arrangements" and collective memory.
Basie had Holiday, and Webb countered with the singer Ella Fitzgerald.
As Metronome magazine proclaimed, "Basie's Brilliant Band Conquers Chick's"; the article described the evening:
The publicity over the big band battle, before and after, gave the Basie band a boost and wider recognition.
A few months later, Holiday left for Artie Shaw's band.
Hammond introduced Helen Humes, whom Basie hired; she stayed with Basie for four years.
Basie's 14-man band began playing at the Famous Door, a mid-town nightspot with a CBS network feed and air conditioning, which Hammond was said to have bought the club in return for their booking Basie steadily throughout the summer of 1938.
Their fame took a huge leap.
In 1939, Basie and his band made a major cross-country tour, including their first West Coast dates.
A few months later, Basie quit MCA and signed with the William Morris Agency, who got them better fees.
On February 19, 1940, Count Basie and his Orchestra opened a four-week engagement at Southland in Boston, and they broadcast over the radio on 20 February.
On the West Coast, in 1942 the band did a spot in Reveille With Beverly, a musical film starring Ann Miller, and a "Command Performance" for Armed Forces Radio, with Hollywood stars Clark Gable, Bette Davis, Carmen Miranda, Jerry Colonna, and the singer Dinah Shore.
Other minor movie spots followed, including Choo Choo Swing, Crazy House, Top Man, Stage Door Canteen, and Hit Parade of 1943.
They also continued to record for OKeh Records and Columbia Records.
The war years caused a lot of members turn over, and the band worked many play dates with lower pay.
Basie occasionally lost some key soloists.
However, throughout the 1940s, he maintained a big band that possessed an infectious rhythmic beat, an enthusiastic team spirit, and a long list of inspired and talented jazz soloists.
Los Angeles and the Cavalcade of Jazz concerts
Count Basie was the featured artist at the first Cavalcade of Jazz concert held at Wrigley Field on September 23, 1945 which was produced by Leon Hefflin Sr. Al Jarvis was the Emcee and other artists to appear on stage were Joe Liggins and his Honeydrippers, The Peters Sisters, Slim and Bam, Valaida Snow, and Big Joe Turner.
They played to a crowd of 15,000.
Count Basie and his Orchestra played at the tenth Cavalcade of Jazz concert also at Wrigley Field on June 20, 1954.
Post-war and later years
The big band era appeared to have ended after the war, and Basie disbanded the group.
For a while, he performed in combos, sometimes stretched to an orchestra.
In 1950, he headlined the Universal-International short film "Sugar Chile" Robinson, Billie Holiday, Count Basie and His Sextet.
He reformed his group as a 16-piece orchestra in 1952.
This group was eventually called the New Testament band.
Basie credited Billy Eckstine, a top male vocalist of the time, for prompting his return to Big Band.
Basie's new band was more of an ensemble group, with fewer solo turns, and relying less on "head" and more on written arrangements.
Basie added touches of bebop "so long as it made sense", and he required that "it all had to have feeling".
Behind the occasional bebop solos, he always kept his strict rhythmic pulse, "so it doesn't matter what they do up front; the audience gets the beat".
Basie also added flute to some numbers, a novelty at the time that became widely copied.
Soon, his band was touring and recording again.
The new band included: Paul Campbell, Tommy Turrentine, Johnny Letman, Idrees Sulieman, and Joe Newman (trumpet); Jimmy Wilkins, Benny Powell, Matthew Gee (trombone); Paul Quinichette and Floyd "Candy" Johnson (tenor sax); Marshal Royal and Ernie Wilkins (alto sax); and Charlie Fowlkes (baritone sax).
Down Beat magazine reported, "(Basie) has managed to assemble an ensemble that can thrill both the listener who remembers 1938 and the youngster who has never before heard a big band like this."
In 1957, Basie sued the jazz venue Ball and Chain in Miami over outstanding fees, causing the closure of the venue.
In 1958, the band made its first European tour.
Jazz was especially appreciated in France, The Netherlands, and Germany in the 1950s; these countries were the stomping grounds for many expatriate American jazz stars who were either resurrecting their careers or sitting out the years of racial divide in the United States.
By the mid-1950s, Basie's band had become one of the preeminent backing big bands for some of the most prominent jazz vocalists of the time.
In 1957, Basie released the live album Count Basie at Newport.
"April in Paris" (arrangement by Wild Bill Davis) was a best-selling instrumental and the title song for the hit album.
In 1959, Basie's band recorded a "greatest hits" double album The Count Basie Story (Frank Foster, arranger), and Basie/Eckstine Incorporated, an album featuring Billy Eckstine, Quincy Jones (as arranger) and the Count Basie Orchestra.
It was released by Roulette Records, then later reissued by Capitol Records.
Later that year, Basie appeared on a television special with Fred Astaire, featuring a dance solo to "Sweet Georgia Brown", followed in January 1961 by Basie performing at one of the five John F. Kennedy Inaugural Balls.
That summer, Basie and Duke Ellington combined forces for the recording First Time!
The Count Meets the Duke, each providing four numbers from their play books.
During the balance of the 1960s, the band kept busy with tours, recordings, television appearances, festivals, Las Vegas shows, and travel abroad, including cruises.
Some time around 1964, Basie adopted his trademark yachting cap.
Through steady changes in personnel, Basie led the band into the 1980s.
During its heyday, The Gong Show (1976–80) used Basie's "Jumpin' at the Woodside" during some episodes, while an NBC stagehand named Eugene Patton would dance on stage; Patton became known as "Gene Gene the Dancing Machine".
Marriage, family and death
Basie was a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity.
On July 21, 1930, Basie married Vivian Lee Winn, in Kansas City, Missouri.
They were divorced sometime before 1935.
Some time in or before 1935, the now single Basie returned to New York City, renting a house at 111 West 138th Street, Manhattan, as evidenced by the 1940 census.
He married Catherine Morgan on July 13, 1940 in the King County courthouse in Seattle, Washington.
In 1942, they moved to Queens.
Their only child, Diane, was born February 6, 1944.
She was born with cerebral palsy and the doctors claimed she would never walk.
The couple kept her and cared deeply for her, and especially through her mother's tutelage Diane learned not only to walk but to swim.
The Basies bought a home in the new whites-only neighborhood of Addisleigh Park in 1946 on Adelaide Road and 175th Street, St. . Albans, Queens
On April 11, 1983, Catherine Basie died of heart disease at the couple's home in Freeport, Grand Bahama Island.
She was 67 years old.
Basie hitched his star to some of the most famous vocalists of the 1950s and 1960s, which helped keep the Big Band sound alive and added greatly to his recording catalog.
Jimmy Rushing sang with Basie in the late 1930s.
With Billy Eckstine on the album Basie/Eckstine Incorporated, in 1959.
With the New Testament Basie band in full swing, and arrangements written by a youthful Quincy Jones, this album proved a swinging respite from her Songbook recordings and constant touring she did during this period.
She even toured with the Basie Orchestra in the mid-1970s, and Fitzgerald and Basie also met on the 1979 albums A Classy Pair, Digital III at Montreux, and A Perfect Match, the last two also recorded live at Montreux.
Jones also arranged and conducted 1966's live Sinatra at the Sands which featured Sinatra with Count Basie and his orchestra at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas.
In May 1970, Sinatra performed in London's Royal Festival Hall with the Basie orchestra, in a charity benefit for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
Sinatra later said of this concert "I have a funny feeling that those two nights could have been my finest hour, really.
It went so well; it was so thrilling and exciting".
Basie also recorded with Tony Bennett in the late 1950s.
Their albums together included In Person and Strike Up the Band.
Basie also toured with Bennett, including a date at Carnegie Hall.
One of Basie's biggest regrets was never recording with Louis Armstrong, though they shared the same bill several times.
Legacy and honors
Count Basie introduced several generations of listeners to the Big Band sound and left an influential catalog.
Basie is remembered by many who worked for him as being considerate of musicians and their opinions, modest, relaxed, fun-loving, dryly witty, and always enthusiastic about his music.
In his autobiography, he wrote, "I think the band can really swing when it swings easy, when it can just play along like you are cutting butter."
- In Red Bank, New Jersey, the Count Basie Theatre, a property on Monmouth Street redeveloped for live performances, and Count Basie Field were named in his honor.
- Received an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music in 1974.
- Mechanic Street, where he grew up with his family, has the honorary title of Count Basie Way.
- In 2009, Edgecombe Avenue and 160th Street in Washington Heights, Manhattan, were renamed as Paul Robeson Boulevard and Count Basie Place. The corner is the location of 555 Edgecombe Avenue, also known as the Paul Robeson Home, a National Historic Landmark where Count Basie had also lived.
- In 2010, Basie was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.
- In October 2013, version 3.7 of WordPress was code-named Count Basie.
- In 2019, Basie was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
- On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Count Basie among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.
- Asteroid 35394 Countbasie, discovered by astronomers at Caussols in 1997, was named after him. The official naming citation was published by the Minor Planet Center on 8 November 2019 (M.P.C. 118220).
- 6508 Hollywood Blvd in Hollywood, California is the location of Count Basie's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Representation in other media
- Jerry Lewis used "Blues in Hoss' Flat" from Basie's Chairman of the Board album, as the basis for his own "Chairman of the Board" routine in the movie The Errand Boy.
- "Blues in Hoss' Flat," composed by Basie band member Frank Foster, was used by the radio DJ Al "Jazzbeaux" Collins as his theme song in San Francisco and New York.
- In Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), Brenda Fricker's "Pigeon Lady" character claims to have heard Basie in Carnegie Hall.
- Drummer Neil Peart of the Canadian rock band Rush recorded a version of "One O'Clock Jump" with the Buddy Rich Big Band, and has used it at the end of his drum solos on the 2002 Vapor Trails Tour and Rush's 30th Anniversary Tour.
- Since 1963 "The Kid From the Red Bank" has been the theme and signature music for the most popular Norwegian radio show, Reiseradioen, aired at NRK P1 every day during the summer.
- In the 2016 movie The Matchbreaker, Emily Atkins (Christina Grimmie) recounts the story of how Count Basie met his wife three times without speaking to her, telling her he would marry her some day in their first conversation, and then marrying her seven years later.
- The post-hardcore band Dance Gavin Dance have a song titled "Count Bassy" that is included on their 2018 album Artificial Selection.
Count Basie made most of his albums with his big band.
See the Count Basie Orchestra Discography.
From 1929–1932, Basie was part of Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra:
- Count Basie in Kansas City: Bennie Moten's Great Band of 1930-1932 (RCA Victor, 1965)
- Basie Beginnings: Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra (1929–1932) (Bluebird/RCA, 1989)
- The Swinging Count!, (Clef, 1952)
- Count Basie Presents Eddie Davis Trio + Joe Newman (Roulette, 1958)
- The Atomic Mr. Basie (Roulette, 1958)
- Memories Ad-Lib with Joe Williams (Roulette, 1958)
- Basie/Eckstine Incorporated with Billy Eckstine ( Roulette 1959)
- String Along with Basie (Roulette, 1960)
- Count Basie and the Kansas City 7 (Impulse!, 1962)
- Basie Swingin' Voices Singin' with the Alan Copeland Singers (ABC-Paramount, 1966)
- Basie Meets Bond (United Artists, 1966)
- Loose Walk with Roy Eldridge (Pablo, 1972)
- Basie Jam (Pablo, 1973)
- The Bosses with Big Joe Turner (1973)
- For the First Time (Pablo, 1974)
- Satch and Josh with Oscar Peterson (Pablo, 1974)
- Basie & Zoot with Zoot Sims (Pablo, 1975)
- Count Basie Jam Session at the Montreux Jazz Festival 1975 (Pablo, 1975)
- For the Second Time (Pablo, 1975)
- Basie Jam 2 (Pablo, 1976)
- Basie Jam 3 (Pablo, 1976)
- Kansas City 5 (Pablo, 1977)
- The Gifted Ones with Dizzy Gillespie (Pablo, 1977)
- Montreux '77 (Pablo, 1977)
- Basie Jam: Montreux '77 (Pablo, 1977)
- Satch and Josh...Again with Oscar Peterson (Pablo, 1977)
- Night Rider with Oscar Peterson (Pablo, 1978)
- Count Basie Meets Oscar Peterson – The Timekeepers (Pablo, 1978)
- Yessir, That's My Baby with Oscar Peterson (Pablo, 1978)
- Kansas City 8: Get Together (Pablo, 1979)
- Kansas City 7 (Pablo, 1980)
- On the Road (Pablo, 1980)
- Kansas City 6 (Pablo, 1981)
- Mostly Blues...and Some Others (Pablo, 1983)
- 88 Basie Street (Pablo, 1983)
With Harry Edison
- Edison's Lights (Pablo, 1976)
- Hit Parade of 1943 (1943) – as himself
- Top Man (1943) – as himself
- Sugar Chile Robinson, Billie Holiday, Count Basie and His Sextet (1950) – as himself
- Jamboree (1957)
- Cinderfella (1960) – as himself
- Sex and the Single Girl (1964) – as himself with his orchestra
- Blazing Saddles (1974) – as himself with his orchestra
- Last of the Blue Devils (1979) – interview and concert by the orchestra in documentary on Kansas City music
In 1958, Basie became the first African-American to win a Grammy Award.
|Count Basie Grammy Award history|
|1984||Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Big Band||88 Basie Street||Jazz||Winner|
|1982||Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Big Band||Warm Breeze||Jazz||Winner|
|1980||Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Big Band||On The Road||Jazz||Winner|
|1977||Best Jazz Performance by a Big Band||Prime Time||Jazz||Winner|
|1976||Best Jazz Performance by a Soloist (Instrumental)||Basie And Zoot||Jazz||Winner|
|1963||Best Performance by an Orchestra – For Dancing||This Time By Basie! Hits of the 50's And 60's||Pop||Winner|
|1960||Best Performance by a Band For Dancing||Dance With Basie||Pop||Winner|
|1958||Best Performance by a Dance Band||Basie (The Atomic Mr. Basie)||Pop||Winner|
|1958||Best Jazz Performance, Group||Basie (The Atomic Mr. Basie)||Jazz||Winner|
Grammy Hall of Fame
By 2011, four recordings of Count Basie had been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, a special Grammy award established in 1973 to honor recordings that are at least 25 years old, and that have "qualitative or historical significance."
|Count Basie Grammy Hall of Fame Awards|
|Year recorded||Title||genre||Label||Year inducted|
|1939||Lester Leaps In||Jazz (Single)||Vocalion||2005|
|1955||Everyday (I Have the Blues)||Jazz (Single)||Clef||1992|
|1955||April in Paris||Jazz (Single)||Clef||1985|
|1937||One O'Clock Jump||Jazz (Single)||Decca||1979|
Honors and inductions
The award was received by his son, Aaron Woodward.
On September 11, 1996 the U.S. issued a Count Basie 32 cents postage stamp. Post Office
Basie is a part of the Big Band Leaders issue, which, is in turn, part of the Legends of American Music series.
In 2009, Basie was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.
National Recording Registry
The board selects songs in an annual basis that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Count Basie.