William ‘Count’ Basie

(1904 – 1984)

©2004 Joan Cartwright

FRANK FOSTER is the present leader of the Count Basie Big Band

The Man

Count Basie was born August 21, 1904 in Red Bank, New Jersey to Harvie Basie, a mellophone player and Lillian (Childs) Basie, a pianist who gave him his first lessons.  He learned piano from several jazz icons including James P. Johnson, Fats Waller and was influenced by Earl ‘Father’ Hines.

His Work

Basie’s professional career began as accompanying pianist and soloist to vaudeville performers touring the country.  After being stranded in Kansas City, in 1927, he found work playing for silent movies. He joined the Walter Page Blue Devils, in July 1928. In 1929, he played with several small bands before linking up with Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra.  After Moten’s untimely death, in April 1935, Basie formed his own nine-piece band, Barons of Rhythm. The band began broadcasting live on the radio and Journalist/Producer John Hammond’s rave reviews soon landed Basie a record deal with Decca Records.

His Accomplishments

Besides touring through Europe in 1954 and Japan in 1963 Basie is known as a member of the All American Rhythm Section which include Walter Page on bass, Jo Jones on drum set and Freddie Green on guitar.  His tune “One O’Clock Jump” became the band’s first chart entry in September 1937 and was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.  “Stop Beatin’ Round the Mulberry Bush” became a top ten hit in the fall 1938. While on the West Coast in 1943 he and the band appeared in 5 movies all released within a matter of 5 months: Hit Parade of 1943, Reveille with Beverly, Stage Door Canteen, Top Man and Crazy House.  In addition to having several other top ten hits, Basie’s orchestra scored nine (9) Grammy awards, winning at the first ceremony, in 1958, for Best Performance by a Dance Band and Best Jazz Performance, for his LP Basie.  The band went on to win many more for hits such as This Time by Basie! Hits of the 50’s and 60’s in 1963.  His final Grammy was earned in 1984 for 88 Basie Street.