Count Basie

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Basie, Count

(William Basie) (bā`sē), 1904–84, American jazz pianist, bandleader, and composer, b. Red Bank, N.J. After working in dance halls and vaudeville in New York City, Basie moved to Kansas City, a major jazz center. There he joined Walter Page's Blue Devils in 1927, moving to Bennie Morton's band in 1929. He formed his own band in 1935, and for 40 years it has produced a distinctive sound marked by a powerful yet relaxed attack. Basie's provocative piano style is characterized by a predominant right hand. Among the many pieces he has composed for his band is "One O'Clock Jump."
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Basie, (William) Count

(1904–84) jazz musician; born in Red Bank, N.J. He received his first piano lessons at age six from his mother and worked as an accompanist to silent films while still in high school. He studied organ informally with Fats Waller, whom he replaced in a New York vaudeville act called Katie Crippin and Her Kids. Between 1924–27, he toured on the Keith Circuit with the Gonzelle White vaudeville show until it got stranded in Kansas City, then a bustling center of jazz and blues activity. He played piano at a silent movie theater there, then spent a year with Walter Page's Blue Devils in 1928–29. When this band broke up, he began a five-year association with Benny Moten's orchestra, whose sidemen included blues singer Jimmy Rushing, trumpeter Hot Lips Page, and Lester Young, the highly innovative tenor saxophonist. Upon Moten's death in 1935, these musicians formed the nucleus of Basie's first band. Under his leadership they broadcast from the Reno Club in Kansas City, where a radio announcer dubbed him "Count"; through these broadcasts, he attracted the attention of the well-connected talent scout John Hammond, who set up his first tour. The band played a residency at the Grand Terrace in Chicago, then opened at the Roseland in New York in December 1936. Basie began a prolific series of recordings the following year, and in 1938 he played a long residency at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, where his reputation as leader of one of the premier swing bands was firmly established. He led his band on a continual series of U.S. tours throughout the 1940s, but in 1950 economic conditions compelled him to disband and front a sextet for two years. He formed a new 16-piece band in 1952 and began a long association with producer Norman Granz of Verve Records; this outfit established a new and enduring prototype for big bands and radio and television studio orchestras. In 1954, the band undertook the first of its many European tours. During the 1960s, the Basie orchestra accompanied various singers, including Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Tony Bennett, and Sammy Davis Jr., on recordings and concert tours. He made numerous appearances with all-star groups in the 1970s, but maintained a regular touring schedule with his band until his death. His autobiography, Good Morning Blues, written with Albert Murray, was published posthumously in 1985.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.