(William) Count Basie (1904-1984) was an extremely popular figure in the jazz world for half a century. He was a fine pianist and leader of one of the greatest jazz bands in history. The story of Count Basie is very much the story of the great jazz band that he led for close to 50 years (1935-1984), an orchestra with a distinctive sound, anchored by a subtle but powerful beat, complimented by exceptional ensemble work, and graced with superb soloists. But perhaps the most surprising aspect of the band's achievement was its 50-year survival in a culture that has experienced so many changes in the music world, and especially its survival after the mid-1960s when jazz lost much of its audience to rock music and disco. William Basie was born in Red Bank, New Jersey, on August 21, 1904. His mother was a music teacher, and at a young age he became her pupil. But it was in Harlem, New York City, that he discovered his calling of ragtime and stride piano, principally from his sometime organ teacher, Fats Waller. Basie made his professional debut as an accompanist for vaudeville acts. In 1928, after a short stint as house organist in a silent movie theater, he joined Walter Page's Blue Devils. When that band broke up in 1929, he was hired by Bennie Moten's Band and played piano with them for the next five years. Moten's death in 1935 altered Basie's career dramatically. He took over the band and they called themselves The Barons of Rhythm. Later on, with some financial and promotional support from John Hammond, these musicians formed the first Count Basie Orchestra. Within a year or so the band had developed its own variation of the basic Kansas City swing style which displayed a solid rhythm enhancing the horn soloists. Familiar pattern is evident in the band's theme song, "One O'Clock Jump," written by Basie himself in 1937, which has a soft introduction by the rhythm section (piano, guitar, bass, and drums), then bursts into full orchestral support for a...
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