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Basie, William “Count.” Born in Red Bank, New Jersey, in 1904, Basie was a pianist, leader, composer and leading figure in the swing era with a long string of successful releases. After studying piano with his mother, he went as a young man to New York where he met and learned from James P. Johnson, Fats Waller (from whom he also learned to play the organ) and other stride piano giants. By the time Basie was 20 he was touring vaudeville circuits as a solo performer and working as an accompanist for blues singers, dancers and comedians. Stranded in the late Twenties in Kansas City with an out-of-work touring group, he decided to stay there, playing piano in a silent-film theatre. In July 1928 he joined Walter Page’s Blue Devils, which included another sometime pianist, blues shouter Jimmy Rushing. About two years later Basie left the Blue Devils with others to join the Bennie Moten Orchestra. When Moten died suddenly in 1935, Basie left and organized a band with several former members of the Moten band, including Jo Jones and Lester Young, calling themselves the Barons of Rhythm. It was this band which legendary record producer and talent finder John Hammond heard on the radio. Hammond went to Kansas City to scout, and brought the band to New York for eventual stardom as the Count Basie Orchestra. Basie came to New York in 1936 with a small band which he soon enlarged to the standard swing band size of five or six brass, four or five saxophones, and four rhythm. The band continued to thrive during World War II as one of the greatest of swing bands. Despite many personnel changes, it dropped down to a septet for only two years, 1950 through 1952. The band’s recordings and radio broadcasts from New York and other big cities brought Basie international fame for “One O’Clock Jump,” “Jumping at the Woodside” and many other classics. The band was particularly successful with its use of arrangements featuring Basie’s minimalist piano style (often using only one or two fingers) and the spectacular playing of its stars. Among them were saxophonists Lester Young, Herschel Evans and Buddy Tate; trumpeters Oran “Hot Lips” Page, Harry Edison and Buck Clayton; trombonists Dickie Wells and Benny Morton; and the legendary rhythm section of Jo Jones on drums, Freddy Green on guitar and Walter Page on bass. During and after the War Basie recruited younger, inspired soloists, including saxophonists Don Byas, Lucky Thompson, Paul Gonsalves and Illinois Jacquet; trombone players . Johnson and Vic Dickenson; and trumpeters Al Killian, Joe Newman and Emmett Berry. In 1954 the band made its first tour of Europe. In 1955, Basie’s 20th year as a leader, it repeated the European tour. The band featured new stars Thad Jones and Joe Wilder on trumpets; Benny Powell and Henry Coker on trombones; and arrangements by Ernie Wilkins, Neal Hefti, Johnny Mandel and Manny Albam. In September 1957 the band became the first black group to play the Waldorf-Astoria, working there a record-setting 13 weeks. It began to make yearly overseas tours and appeared at major clubs. In addition to the many Basie band recordings, Basie made a number of records as a sideman, starting in 1929 with Walter Page and Bennie Moten and with blues singer Joe Turner. Basie remained a popular and permanent institution on the national and international scene until his death. Even today his band continues to play under the leadership of longtime veteran Frank Foster. The Basie band and its stars have garnered many awards, including several from the readers of Down Beat and Metronome. Basie died in 1984.


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