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  • Writer's pictureJazz Attack

Jazz Greats: Count Basie

William J. “Count” Basie was born in Red Bank, New Jersey on August 21, 1904. His song The Kid from Red Bank is a nod to these roots. His mother, Lillian Childs Basie, paid 25 cents a lesson to ensure that her son learned piano. In 1924, Basie moved to New York City and began touring as a vaudeville piano player before “relocating” (meaning he was accidentally stranded due to a canceled tour) to Kansas City, Missouri where he joined the Bennie Moten band as a staff arranger and substitute pianist. Eventually, he became the head of this band, renamed it Count Basie and his Cherry Blossom Orchestra, and began his career as a band leader. 

Basie at the piano in a 1955 photographic portrait by James J. Kriegsmann

In 1935 Basie formed the nine piece band Count Basie and His Barons of Rhythm. Their performances were broadcast on the radio and he began to receive nationwide recognition. In 1937, he moved to New York and the thirteen-piece band known as the Count Basie Orchestra skyrocketed to fame. They recorded some of their most popular songs such as One O’Clock Jump and Jumpin’ At the Woodside. He married his beloved wife Catherine Morgan on July 13, 1940.

The Count Basie Orchestra plays "One O'Clock Jump" (the band's unofficial theme song) in the 1943 Columbia film, "Reveille with Beverly."

Basie continued to perform with well-known artists such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, and Big Joe Williams, and recorded even more classic hits like April in Paris, Shiny Stockings, and Corner Pocket. Over his long career, Basie won nine Grammy Awards - his first two were presented at the very first ceremony in 1959: one for Best Jazz Instrumental Album and the other for Best Performance by an Orchestra for Dancing (which was a category until 1964). In 1961, Basie performed at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy.

Basie and his wife Catherine were together for 43 years until her death from a heart attack in 1983. After her death, he took one week off before returning to touring. He died a year later on April 26, 1984 of pancreatic cancer. 

Today, Count Basie is still known as one of the Kings of Swing. His contributions to the big-band swing sound and his fusion of blues and jazz changed the landscape of jazz music. His sound is still celebrated to this day and we hope you’ll join us every week at Jazz Attack to swing out to some of his greatest hits.

If you're home for the night and want to get dancing to some classic Basie tunes, check out this full evening of hits from Lindy Focus 2019

For more on Count Basie, check out the following resources:

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