William "Count" Basie Biography, Recordings and Videos

b. William Allen Basie, 21 August 1904, Red Bank, New Jersey, USA, d. 26 April 1984, Hollywood, California, USA. Bandleader and pianist Basie grew up in Red Bank, just across the Hudson River from New York City. His mother gave him his first lessons at the piano, and he used every opportunity to hear the celebrated kings of New York keyboard - James P. Johnson, Willie "The Lion" Smith and especially Fats Waller. Ragtime was all the rage, and these keyboard professors ransacked the European tradition to achieve ever more spectacular improvisations. The young Basie listened to Fats Waller playing the organ in Harlem's Lincoln Theater and received tuition from him. Pianists were in demand to accompany vaudeville acts, and Waller recommended Basie as his successor in the Katie Crippen And Her Kids troupe, and with them he toured black venues throughout America (often referred to as the "chitlin' circuit"). Stranded in Kansas City after the Gonzel White tour collapsed, Basie found it "wide-open". Owing to the laissez-faire administration of Democrat leader Tom Pendergast, musicians could easily find work, and jazz blossomed alongside gambling and prostitution (many people trace the origins of modern jazz to these circumstances - see Kansas City Jazz).

Basie played accompaniment for silent movies for a while, then in 1928 joined Walter Page's Blue Devils, starting a 20-year-long association with the bassist. When the Blue Devils broke up, Basie joined Bennie Moten, then in 1935, started his own band at the Reno Club and quickly lured Moten's best musicians into its ranks. Unfettered drinking hours, regular broadcasts on local radio and Basie's feel for swing honed the band into quite simply the most classy and propulsive unit in the history of music. Duke Ellington's band may have been more ambitious, but for sheer unstoppable swing Basie could not be beaten. Impresario John Hammond recognized as much when he heard them on their local broadcast. In January 1937 an augmented Basie band made its recording debut for Decca Records. By this time the classic rhythm section - Freddie Green (guitar), Walter Page (bass) and Jo Jones (drums) - had been established. The horns - which included Lester Young (tenor saxophone) and Buck Clayton (trumpet) - sounded magnificent buoyed by this team and the goadings of Basie's deceptively simple piano. Basie frequently called himself a "non-pianist"; actually, his incisive minimalism had great power and influence - not least on Thelonious Monk, one of bebop's principal architects.

In 1938, the band recorded the classic track "Jumpin' At The Woodside", a Basie composition featuring solos by Earle Warren (alto saxophone) and Herschel Evans (clarinet), as well as Young and Clayton. The track could be taken as a definition of swing. Basie's residency at the Famous Door club on New York's West 52nd Street from July 1938 to January 1939 was a great success, CBS broadcasting the band over its radio network (transcriptions of these broadcasts have recently been made available - although hardly hi-fi, they are fascinating documents, with Lester Young playing clarinet as well as tenor). This booking was followed by a six-month residency in Chicago. It is this kind of regular work - spontaneity balanced with regular application - that explains why the recorded sides of the period are some of the great music of the century. In 1939 Basie left Decca for Columbia Records, with whom he stayed until 1946. Throughout the 40s the Count Basie band provided dancers with conducive rhythms and jazz fans with astonishing solos: both appreciated his characteristic contrast of brass and reeds. Outstanding tenors emerged: Don Byas, Buddy Tate, Lucky Thompson, Illinois Jacquet, Paul Gonsalves, as well as trumpeters (Al Killian and Joe Newman) and trombonists (Vic Dickenson and J.J. Johnson). On vocals Basie used Jimmy Rushing for the blues material and Helen Humes for pop and novelty numbers. Economic necessity pared down the Basie band to seven members at the start of the 50s, but otherwise Basie maintained a big band right through to his death in 1984. In 1954 he made his first tour of Europe, using arrangements by Ernie Wilkins and Neal Hefti. In June 1957 Basie broke the colour bar at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel; his was the first black band to play there, and they stayed for a four-month engagement. The 1957 The Atomic Mr. Basie set Hefti's arrangements in glorious stereo sound and was acknowledged as a classic. Even the cover made its mark: in the 70s Blondie adapted its period nuclear-chic to frame singer Deborah Harry.

In 1960, Jimmy Rushing left the band, depriving it of a popular frontman, but the European tours continued - a groundbreaking tour of Japan in 1963 was also a great success. Count Basie was embraced by the American entertainment industry and appeared in the movies Sex And The Single Girl and Made In Paris. He became a regular television guest alongside the likes of Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, Sammy Davis Jnr. and Tony Bennett. Arranging for Basie was a significant step in the career of Quincy Jones (later famous as Michael Jackson's producer). The onslaught of the Beatles and rock music in the 60s was giving jazz a hard time; Basie responded by giving current pop tunes the big band treatment, and Jones arranged Hits Of The 50s And 60s. Its resounding commercial success led to a string of similar albums arranged by Billy Byers; the brass adopted the stridency of John Barry's James Bond scores and, unlike the work of the previous decades, these records now sound dated. In 1965, Basie signed to Sinatra's Reprise Records, and made several recordings and appearances with him.

By 1969 most of Basie's original sidemen had left the band, though Freddie Green was still with him. Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis (tenor) was now his most distinguished soloist. The arranger Sammy Nestico provided some interesting compositions, and 1970 saw the release of Afrique, an intriguing and unconventional album arranged by Oliver Nelson with tunes by avant garde saxophonists such as Albert Ayler and Pharoah Sanders. In 1975, after recording for a slew of different labels, Basie found a home on Pablo Records (owned by Norman Granz, organizer of the Jazz At The Philharmonic showcases). This produced a late flowering, as, unlike previous producers, Granz let Basie do what he does best - swing the blues - rather than collaborate with popular singers. In 1983, the death of his wife Catherine, whom he had married 40 years earlier while he was with the Bennie Moten band, struck a heavy blow and he himself died the following year.

The later compromises should not cloud Basie's achievements: during the 30s he integrated the bounce of the blues into sophisticated ensemble playing. His piano work showed that rhythm and space were more important than technical virtuosity: his composing gave many eminent soloists their finest moments. Without the Count Basie Orchestra's sublimely aerated versions of "Cherokee" it is unlikely that Charlie Parker could ever have created "Koko". Modern jazz stands indubitably in Basie's debt. For newcomers to the work of Basie the Original American Decca Recordings is an unbeatable starting point.


Dance Parade 10-inch album (Columbia 1949)
Count Basie At The Piano 10-inch album (Decca 1950)
with Lester Young Lester Young Quartet And Count Basie Seven 10-inch album (Mercury 1950)
with Young Count Basie And Lester Young 10-inch album (Jazz Panorama 1951)
Count Basie and the Kansas City 7 (Mercury 1952)
Count Basie And His Orchestra Collates (Mercury 1952)
Jazz Royalty 10-inch album (EmArcy 1954)
Count Basie And His Orchestra (Decca 1954)
The Old Count And The New Count - Basie 10-inch album (Epic 1954)
Basie Jazz (Clef 1954)
Rock The Blues 10-inch album (Epic 1954)
Count Basie Sextet (Clef 1954)
Count Basie Big Band (Clef 1954)
Count Basie Dance Session 1 (Clef 1954)
Count Basie i (RCA Victor 1955)
Lester Leaps In (Epic 1955)
Let's Go To Prez (Epic 1955)
Count Basie Dance Session 2 (Clef 1955)
Basie's Back In Town (Epic 1955)
Classics (Columbia 1955)
A Night At Count Basie's (Vanguard 1955)
Count Basie Swings/Joe Williams Sings (Clef 1955)
The Greatest! Count Basie Swings/Joe Williams Sings Standards (Verve 1956)
Basie Bash (Columbia 1956)
Basie (Clef 1956)
Blues By Basie 1939-50 recordings (Columbia 1956)
with Ella Fitzgerald, Williams One O'Clock Jump (Columbia 1956)
Count Basie ii (Brunswick 1956)
The Count (Clef 1956)
The Swinging Count (Clef 1956)
The Band Of Distinction (Clef 1956)
Basie Roars Again (Clef 1956)
The King Of Swing (Clef 1956)
Basie Rides Again (Clef 1956)
Basie In Europe (Clef 1956)
Count Basie iii (American Record Society 1956)
April In Paris (Verve 1957)
Basie's Best (American Record Society 1957)
Count Basie In London (Verve 1957)
Count Basie At Newport (Verve 1957)
The Atomic Mr Basie (Roulette 1957)
Basie Plays Hefti (Roulette 1958)
Sing Along With Basie (Roulette 1958)
Dizzy Gillespie And Count Basie At Newport (Verve 1958)
Hall Of Fame (Verve 1958)
with Tony Bennett Basie Swings, Bennett Sings (Roulette 1958)
One More Time (Roulette 1959)
Breakfast Dance And Barbecue (Roulette 1959)
with Billy Eckstine Basie/Eckstine Inc. (Roulette 1959)
Chairman Of The Board (Roulette 1959)
with Williams Memories Ad Lib (Roulette 1959)
Everyday I Have The Blues (Roulette 1959)
Tony Bennett In Person (Columbia 1959)
Dance With Basie (Roulette 1959)
Not Now I'll Tell You When (Roulette 1960)
Just The Blues (Roulette 1960)
String Along With Basie (Roulette 1960)
Kansas City Suite: The Music Of Benny Carter (Roulette 1960)
Count Basie/Sarah Vaughan (Roulette 1960)
The Count Basie Story (Roulette 1961)
The Essential Count Basie (Verve 1961)
First Time! The Count Meets The Duke (Columbia 1961)
Basie At Birdland (Roulette 1961)
with Bennett Bennett And Basie Strike Up The Band (Roulette 1962)
The Legend (Roulette 1962)
Count Basie And The Kansas City 7 (Impulse! 1962)
The Best Of Basie Volume 2 (Roulette 1962)
Count Basie Live In Sweden (Roulette 1962)
with Fitzgerald Ella And Basie! (Verve 1963)
Easin' It (Roulette 1963)
This Time By Basie! (Reprise 1963)
On My Way And Shouting Again (Verve 1963)
Li'l Ol' Groovemaker ... Basie (Verve 1963)
More Hits Of The 50s And 60s reissued as Frankly Basie: Count Basie Plays The Hits Of Frank Sinatra (Verve 1963)
Basie Land (Verve 1964)
Our Shining Hour (Verve 1964)
Basie Picks The Winners (Verve 1965)
with Arthur Prysock Prysock/Basie (Verve 1965)
Pop Goes The Basie (Reprise 1965)
Basie's Bounce (Affinity 1965)
Basie's Beatle Bag (Verve 1966)
Basie's Swingin' Voices Singin' (ABC-Paramount 1966)
Basie Meets Bond (United 1966)
Inside Outside (Verve 1966)
Basie's Beat (Verve 1967)
Broadway ... Basie's Way (Command 1967)
Hollywood ... Basie's Way (Command 1967)
Live In Antibes 1968 (Esoldun 1968)
Standing Ovation (Dot 1968)
High Voltage (Verve 1970)
Afrique (Doctor Jazz 1971)
At The Chatterbox 1937 recordings (Jazz Archives 1974)
Basie Jam, Vol. 1 (Pablo 1974)
with Big Joe Turner The Bosses (Pablo 1974)
For The First Time (Pablo 1974)
with Oscar Peterson Satch And Josh (Pablo 1975)
with Zoot Sims Basie And Zoot (Pablo 1975)
Basie Jam At Montreux '75 (Pablo 1975)
Fun Time: Count Basie Big Band At Montreux '75 (Pablo 1975)
The Basie Big Band (Pablo 1975)
For The Second Time (Pablo 1975)
I Told You So (Pablo 1976)
Basie Jam, Vol. 2 (Pablo 1976)
Basie Jam, Vol. 3 (Pablo 1976)
Prime Time (Pablo 1977)
Kansas City, Vol. 5 (Pablo 1977)
with Dizzy Gillespie The Gifted Ones (Pablo 1977)
Basie Jam: Montreux '77 (Pablo 1977)
Basie Big Band: Montreux '77 (Pablo 1977)
with Peterson Satch And Josh ... Again (Pablo 1977)
with Peterson Yessir, That's My Baby (Pablo 1978)
with Peterson Night Rider (Pablo 1978)
with Peterson The Timekeepers (Pablo 1978)
Live In Japan (Pablo 1978)
with Fitzgerald A Classy Pair (Pablo 1979)
with Fitzgerald A Perfect Match: Basie And Ella (Pablo 1979)
with Joe Pass, Fitzgerald Digital III At Montreux (Pablo 1979)
On The Road (Pablo 1980)
Get Together (Pablo 1980)
Kansas City, Vol. 7 (Pablo 1980)
Kansas City Shout (Pablo 1980)
Warm Breeze (Pablo 1981)
Farmers Market Barbecue (Pablo 1982)
Me And You (Pablo 1983)
88 Basie Street (Pablo 1983)
Mostly Blues ... And Some Others (Pablo 1983)
Fancy Pants (Pablo 1984)
with Roy Eldridge Loose Walk 1972 recording (Pablo 1992)
the Count Basie Orchestra directed By Grover Mitchell Count Plays Duke (MAMA 1998)
Live At The Sands 1966 recording (Reprise 1999)
the Count Basie Orchestra directed by Grover Mitchell Swing Shift (Mama 1999)


with Bennie Moten Count Basie In Kansas City 1929-32 recordings (Camden 1959)
Basie's Basement 1929-32 recordings (Camden 1959)
Verve's Choice - The Best Of Count Basie (Verve 1963)
The World Of Count Basie 3-LP set (Roulette 1964)
Super Chief 1936-42 recordings (Columbia 1972)
Good Morning Blues 1937-39 recordings (MCA 1977)
Basie And Friends 1974-81 recordings (Pablo 1982)
Birdland Era, Volumes 1 & 2 (Duke 1986)
The Essential Count Basie, Volume 1 1936-39 recordings (Columbia 1987)
The Essential Count Basie, Volume 2 1939-40 recordings (Columbia 1987)
The Essential Count Basie, Volume 3 1940-41 recordings (Columbia 1988)
The Swing Machine (Giants Of Jazz 1992)
The Best Of Count Basie (Pablo 1992)
The Complete American Decca Recordings (1937-1939) 3-CD box set (Decca 1992)
The Best Of Count Basie 1937-39 recordings (Decca 1992)
The Best Of Count Basie: The Roulette Years (Roulette 1992)
Live 1956, 1957, 1959, 1961 recordings, 3-CD box set (Sequel 1993)
The Complete Atomic Basie (Roulette 1994)
Count Basie And His Great Vocalists 1939-45 recordings (Columbia/Legacy 1995)
The Golden Years 1972-83 recordings, 4-CD box set (Pablo 1996)
One O'Clock Jump: The Very Best Of Count Basie (Collectables 1998)
Swingsation (GRP 1998)
The Complete Roulette Studio Count Basie 10-CD box set (Mosaic)
The Complete Roulette Live Recordings Of Count Basie And His Orchestra (1958-1962) 8-CD box set (Mosaic)
The Last Decade 1974, 1977, 1980 recordings (Artistry)
On The Upbeat 1937-145 recordings (Drive Archives)
Rock-A-Bye Basie, Vol. 2 1938-40 recordings (Vintage Jazz Classics)
The Jubilee Alternatives 1943-44 recordings (Hep)
Ken Burns Jazz: The Definitive Count Basie (Verve 2001)
Jump King Of Swing (Arpeggio 2001)
Blues By Basie (Columbia 2001)


Count Basie And Friends (Verve Video 1990)
Swingin' The Blues (Verve Video 1993)
Ralph Gleason's Jazz Casual: Count Basie (Rhino Home Video 1999).


Count Basie And His Orchestra: Its Music and Its Musicians, Raymond Horricks. Count Basie, Alun Morgan.
Count Basie: A Biodiscography, Chris Sheridan.
Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography Of Count Basie, Albert Murray.


Policy Man (1938)
Choo Choo Swing (1942)
Reveille With Beverly (1943)
Stage Door Canteen (1943)
Top Man (1943)
Ebony Parade (1947)
Basin Street Revue (1956)
Cinderfella (1960)
Sex And The Single Girl (1964)
Made In Paris (1966)
Blazing Saddles (1974)
The Last Of The Blue Devils (1979)

Encyclopedia of Popular Music Copyright Muze UK Ltd. 1989 - 2002

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