William James Basie's Biography
During the heyday of the swing era, many big bands flourished. Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Glen Miller, and Chick Webb fronted big bands that could swing, but none of these legends could swing like the Count Basie Orchestra. Count Basie proved that a big band could still swing, without losing the spontaneity so essential to jazz.
William James Basie was born August 21, 1904 in Red Bank, New Jersey (Hare, par. 3). His father was a coachman and caretaker for a wealthy judge, and his mother took in laundry to help with the family's financial situation. Between the two of them, there was enough money to pay for piano lessons for young William (Morgenstern, pars. 1-2).
Young Basie longed for a life in showbiz. He quit school early on, and eventually wound up in New York City in 1924 (Murray 45-48). It was in Harlem where Basie met the great stride piano player Fats Waller (Biographies, par. 2). Waller informally taught Basie the intricacies of the organ and introduced him to other stride luminaries James P. Johnson and Willie "The Lion" Smith (Dance 9). These early influences would have a lasting impact on Basie, contributing a great deal to his distinctive minimalist style.
Basie began his professional music career in the vaudeville circuit within New York (Carattini, par. 2). He toured around the country for several years with various vaudeville acts. In 1927, while touring with the Theater Owners Booking Association or TOBA, under the leadership of Gonzell White, Basie ended up stranded in Kansas City, Missouri when White's act suddenly broke up (Count, par. 2). Basie settled in Kansas City, playing piano accompaniment to silent movies (Biographies, par. 2). He became a member of Walter Page's Blue Devils in 1928 (Count, par. 2). Basie played with the Blue Devils until the early part of 1929, when he left to play with other bands not as well known (Biographies, par. 2). Towards the end of 1929, Basie, along with several former members of the Blue Devils, joined the Bennie Moten Orchestra (About, par. 3).
Basie played with Moten until 1934. Moten encouraged Basie to try to lead a band himself. Basie led his own band for a short time in Little Rock, Arkansas (Morgenstern, par. 9), but he soon returned to Moten's band. He stayed with the Moten band until Bennie Moten died suddenly in 1935 (Biographies, par. 3). Basie stayed on for a while under the leadership of Bennie's brother Buster, but he left shortly thereafter (Count, par. 3). He organized a nine-piece band, the Barons of Rhythm, with Buster Smith, and other former members of the Moten orchestra (Morgenstern, par....