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Count Basie

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Biography

William “Count” Basie (August 21, 1904– April 26, 1984) was a pianist, organist, composer, and bandleader.

As a pianist, he had a distinctive and influential style (the song title “Splanky” is an onomatopoetic reference to the sound of his playing), equally at home in the barrelhouse and the concert hall. Willie “The Lion” Smith, James P. Johnson, and Fats Waller were among his influences.

As a bandleader, he created an organization (built upon the remains of Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra) that was a favorite both of dancers and of vocalists such as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and, of course, Billie Holiday. Equally important, it kept many musicians employed through lean years. Many jazz musicians of note built their chops and earned their bread and butter in Basie’s organization.

In addition to Basie, the swinging “All American Rhythm Section” of his orchestra included greats such as Walter Page (bass), Jo Jones (drums), and Freddie Green (guitar). It was the greatest, most swinging rhythm sections in the history of jazz. Chief among its vocalists were, first, Jimmy Rushing and, later, Joe Williams. Over the years it boasted sidemen and soloists like Herschel Evans (tenor sax), Lester Young (tenor sax), Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis (tenor sax), Buddy Tate (tenor sax), Illinois Jacquet (tenor sax), Earle Warren (alto sax)

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