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William "Count" Basie

William "Count" Basie was born in Hollywood, Florida in 1904 and died in 1984. Basie was a pianist who achieved an international reputation as a band leader. He led one of the longest-running big bands of the century -- from 1935 to 1984, with only a brief break in 1950-1951 when the group was reduced to eight musicians. He emerged as a leader in Kansas City and was a major influence in the formation of the Kansas City style that was "the basis of much of the big-band jazz of the swing era; a driving, invigorating music with the blues as its basis" (Gammond 310). His band's sound was always distinctive, even in the swing era when there were dozens of popular bands working, and in the course of nearly fifty years as a big band leader Basie was influential in helping the careers of many important jazz players and singers.

His style was developed under the influence of stride pianist Fats Waller and Willie "The Lion" Smith. The older men also helped Basie while, during the 1920s, he worked primarily as an accompanist to blues singers in New York. In 1929 he arrived in Kansas City as a member of Walter Page's Blue Devils. Page's groups, along with the big bands of pianists Bennie Moten and Jay McShann, was instrumental in the development of the blues-based swing of Kansas City. This music was "characterized by a relaxed, swinging ensemble behind savagely punched short and simple riffs" (Gammon 310). The style reached one of its greatest heights when Basie, who had been playing with Moten's group, took over the band when Moten died in 1935.

The big bands had become, to a large degree, "essentially the domain of composers and arrangers" before Count Basie's band was brought to New York by John Hammond (Davis 156). There had, of course, been important soloists in other bands, such as Duke Ellington's and Fletcher Henderson's. But in Basie's approach the players were encouraged to play as freely in performance as in informal...

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William "Count" Basie. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 16:29, December 07, 2021, from