Count Basie


Count Basie was one of the most influential bandleaders of the Big Band Era. In 1935, Basie formed his own jazz orchestra, the Count Basie Orchestra, and in 1936 took them to Chicago for a long engagement and their first recordings. He led the group for almost 50 years and many musicians came to prominence under his direction.

In 1929, Basie became the pianist with the Bennie Moten band based in Kansas City. The Moten band was more refined and respected, playing in the "Kansas City stomp" style.  In addition to playing piano, Basie was also co-arranger with Eddie Durham. Their song "Moten Swing", (which Basie claimed credit) was widely acclaimed and was an invaluable contribution to the development of Swing music.

Basie played with the Bennie Moten band (except for a small stint) until Moten's death in 1935.  When Moten died, the band tried to stay together but couldn't make a go of it. Basie then formed his own nine-piece band, Barons of Rhythm, with many former Moten members including names like Freddie Green, Lester Young and Jimmy Rushing.

The Barons of Rhythm were regulars at the Reno Club and often performed for a live radio broadcast. During a broadcast the announcer wanted to give Basie's name some style, so he called him "Count." Little did Basie and the Big Band World know that this touch of of classy royalty would give him proper status with the likes of Duke Ellington and Earl Hines.

While playing at the Reno Club they were sometimes broadcasted on local radio. Late one night with time to fill, the band started improvising. Basie liked the results and named the piece "One O'Clock Jump. It became his signature tune.

Count Basie and His Orchestra's recording of "The One O'Clock Jump"

By the end of 1936, Basie and his band were now billed as "Count Basie and His Barons of Rhythm." Basie moved the band from Kansas City to Chicago, where they developed their sound at a long engagement at the Grand Terrace Ballroom. Right from the start, Basie's band was noted for its rhythm section and his sound was characterized by a "jumping" beat.

Basie favored blues, and he would later showcase some of the most notable blues singers of the era including Billie Holiday, Jimmy Rushing, Big Joe Turner, Helen Humes, and Joe Williams. He also hired arrangers who knew how to maximize the band's abilities, such as Eddie Durham and Jimmy Mundy.

After a short time in Chicago, Basie and the Band moved on to New York City. The band played engagements at the Woodside Hotel in Harlem and the Savoy. In early 1938, the Savoy was the meeting ground for a "battle of the bands" with Chick Webb's group. Basie had Billie Holiday at that time, and Webb countered with the singer Ella Fitzgerald. As Metronome magazine proclaimed, "Basie's Brilliant Band Conquers Chick's"; the article described the evening:

"Throughout the fight, which never let down in its intensity during the whole fray, Chick took the aggressive, with the Count playing along easily and, on the whole, more musically scientifically. Undismayed by Chick's forceful drum beating, which sent the audience into shouts of encouragement and appreciation and casual beads of perspiration to drop from Chick's brow onto the brass cymbals, the Count maintained an attitude of poise and self-assurance. He constantly parried Chick's thundering haymakers with tantalizing runs and arpeggios which teased more and more force from his adversary."

Here a clip from 1941 that shows the energy of Count Basie and His Orchestra

The publicity over the big band battle gave the Basie band a boost and wider recognition. Soon after, Benny Goodman recorded their signature "One O'Clock Jump" with his band and things really took off for Count Basie. From that point forward Count Basie and His Orchestra became a large force in the Big Band Era influencing popular music and musicians of many genres.  You can hear Count Basie's music right here on Swing City Radio.

Swing City Radio: Playing Your Big Band and Swing Music Favorites from the 1930's, 40's and Today! - Big Band Radio Station Broadcasting Online from King of Prussia, PA.

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