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William Basie, or Count  Basie, as he was best known,  was one of the most famous bandleaders of the big band era, as well as its longest running, keeping his orchestra running  through the thirties to the eighties.

 

 

 

 

Basie was born and raised in New Jersey into a musical family, where his mother, a music teacher, first taught him to play the piano. By the time that he had hit his mid teens, Count Basie had already succeeded in building himself a reputation as a talented pianist, graduating from gigs in his home town before moving to the hotbed of jazz that was Harlem of the early Twenties, when the Count was just twenty years old.

 

As well as his frequent appearances in the nightclubs of Harlem, the young Basie also found himself regular work as a session musician.

 

After being around  the Harlem music scene for almost ten years playing in a number of bands, Basie left the city to take  on his first permanent role as pianist for the popular Bennie Moten band based in Kansas City.  Count Basie rapidly became the dominant figure in the band playing with them for five years, until Moten passed away suddenly in 1935.

 

It was at that point in his career that Basie, already in his thirties,  decided that the time was right to start up his own band, forming it around a loyal nucleus of friends who had played with him in the Bennie Moten Band.

The first move  that the “Count” made was to uproot his band from Kansas City and  move them to Chicago. At the same time, the Count Basie Orchestra began to develop a distinctive sound of their very own, that was to remain their trademark sound for many years, driven by the powerful sound of twin tenor saxophonists, one of them the talented Lester Young

The recently formed Count Basie Orchestra caught the attention of the famous producer John Hammond, who signed them up on a production contract. Hammond was involved  in the  production of some  the orchestra’s  most successful records, including their classic " April in Paris", which was recorded during the immediate pre-war years.

Like almost every band of the era, the Count Basie Orchestra suffered badly during the early forties, due to the recording strike that crippled  the music industry  as well as the US entering  World War Two,  a double blow that caused many of the big bands to break up.

Count Basie was made of stronger stuff and he used all of his skills to keep his band afloat, adapting a tough touring schedule. In the immediate postwar period, the Count began  touring Europe, where he enjoyed tremendous popularity. After returning, Basie signed up his band to join the Birdland Stars of 1955", tour, appearing alongside such top jazz acts of the time as Stan Getz, Sarah Vaughan and George Shearing.

 

When television began to increase in popularity in the late fifties and early sixties, Basie was not slow to jump on the band wagon, appearing on one of the first television specials, where they band made their first public rendition of “Sweet Georgia Brown", which even became a hit in the US Singles chart.

When bigger bands had long since confined to the history books, the Count Basie Orchestra was still going strong, during the sixties and seventies, appearing in Las Vegas alongside the Rat Pack, and even in a few  movies.

By the Seventies, and after fifty years in show business, Basie eventually began to slow down, eventfully disbanding his orchestra and  hanging up his baton  at the age of seventy in 1974,  passing away ten years later.

Please take a moment to click through the links below and pick out a particular Count Basie classic to enjoy his rich and unique sound.      

 

   
       
       
  Big Red Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Blue and Sentimental Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Every Day I Have the Blues Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Every Tub Listen to this song on You Tube  
  K.C. Organ Blues Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Kansas City Wrinkles Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Lady Be Good Listen to this song on You Tube  
  One O'Clock Jump Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Paradise Squat Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Polka Dot and Moon Beams Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Royal Garden Blues Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Shiny Stockings Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Two Franks Listen to this song on You Tube