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“Simplicity and Celebration: An Appreciation of Count Basie” by Albert Murray
A Tale of Three Cities: Red Bank, Kansas City, New York
First Testament Band Roars Out of Kansas City
1938 Famous Door Photo Essay, Frank Driggs Collection
Basie in the 40's: Time of Transition
1944 Columbia Records Photo Essay, Frank Driggs Collection
Basie in the 50's: Sixteen Men Swinging-Again
Milt Hinton Photo Essay, Sound of Jazz, CBS Television, December 8,1957
Chuck Stewart Photo Essay: The Basie Band and Joe Williams, Roulette recording sessions, 1957
Chance meeting: The Count and Coltrane
Tad Hershorn Photo Essay: Ella Fitzgerald and Basie in San Antonio, 1979
Count Basie Virtual Jukebox
They Speak of Basie: Joe Williams, Freddie Green, Jay McShann, Oscar Peterson, Albert Murray, Helen Humes, Louie Bellson . . .
Suggested Recordings and Readings
Finale: Video of Count Basie at Montreux, 1977

IJS and Dana Digital Media Lab 2004

 

 
 
   
 

The Reno Club, in downtown K.C., had a floorshow, which included Lips Page and Jimmy Rushing, and Basie's band eventually shook down to what he called Three, Three and Three: Three trumpets (Hot Lips, Joe Keys, Carl "Tatti" Smith; three reeds (Buster Smith, Jack Washington, and Lester Young--who'd sent Basie a wire after hearing the band on the radio, telling him that he needed to replace his tenor man, Slim Freeman, with none other than Lester himself), and three rhythm (Basie, his old boss Walter Page on bass, and, eventually, Jo Jones on drums).

That radio remote which Lester Young picked up on in Minneapolis was carried by W9XBY, a powerful local station which John Hammond, the talent spotter, record producer, and general jazz proselytizer tuned in to on his car radio during Benny Goodman's intermission at the Congress Hotel in Chicago. What he heard mesmerized him, and while he didn't quite take off for Kansas City right then and there, he showed up at the Reno within days. Meanwhile, a radio announcer had dubbed Basie "Count," seeing that he was the leader of the Barons (he must have known his noble rankings well), and a pianist, like Duke Ellington and Earl Hines. (But to his friends, he would remain Bill, or Base.)
Hammond's enthusiasm, resulting in a rave plug for the band in Down Beat, had effects that he hadn't counted on. Decca Records, a quite recent upstart in the business managed by the shrewd Jack Kapp, sent the manager of their race division, J. Mayo Williams (known in the trade as "Ink," for his legendary ability to sign up performers on the spot; he had begun his career with the Paramount label, a leader in the l920s blues field) to check out the band. Williams liked what he heard and promptly offered Basie a recording contract, under terms that Hammond would claim were much less favorable than what he had intended to get from Vocalion, but which nevertheless launched the band to nation-wide distribution.

It would be a while yet before the band left Kansas City on a ramshackle bus in the summer of 1936, and meanwhile there'd be some changes made. Hammond, and Willard Alexander, who was to book the band, agreed that the nine pieces had to be expanded to standard big-band size. The trumpets were OK. Lips Page had left after Louis Armstrong had caught him at the Reno and enthusiastically recommended him to his manager, Joe Glaser. Lips wanted Basie and the band to come with him
 
   
   
   
   
   
   




as leader, but Basie declined, and Lips went off to seek his fame in New York. Fortuitously, Buck Clayton, native of Parsons, Kansas and just returned from a couple of seasons in Shanghai, stopped off on his way to join Willie Bryant's band in New York, liked what he heard at the Reno, and was persuaded to stay. George Hunt was the first trombonist, soon joined by Dan Minor. Fiddler Claude Williams, doubling guitar and violin, made the rhythm section a foursome and added an occasional solo voice, and Herschel Evans, who'd come on board a bit before, making it a two-tenor band, recommended altoist Caughey Roberts.

What was for all intents and purposes a brand-new band, which Basie was intent upon training to retain the free-wheeling swing essence of the nine-piecer, had the bad luck of breaking into the big time as a replacement for Fletcher Henderson at Chicago's Grand Terrace. This job involved a floor show with singers, dancers and a chorus line (the Terrace was the Windy City's Cotton Club, so to speak) and the Basie crew, not exactly the best readers, had to handle a lot of new music. They also lacked a proper dance book, but Henderson loaned Basie a stack of charts.
 




They struggled through the gig, but there was a Chicago rainbow: Hammond managed to produce a session for Vocalion under the covert name of Smith-Jones, Inc. (Smith was trumpeter Tatti; Jones drummer Jo). Lester Young, Basie and Walter Page rounded out the quintet, and Jimmy Rushing sang on two of the four numbers. This was Lester's recording debut, and he was the star: his solos on “Shoe Shine Boy” and “Lady Be Good” are in the pantheon. But it was the marvelous springboard created by the rhythm team (Jones working without his bass drum, tripping the light fantastic) that launched and sustained those tenor flights.

After some one-nighters, including a battle of bands with Mal Hallett's Boston gang, which had battled young and green Duke Ellington seven years before, the Basieites made their New York debut at the famous Roseland Ballroom, opposite another brand-new band, Woody Herman's (the two leaders became life-long friends), also doing their first date for Decca (it included “Roseland Shuffle”, a take-off on “Shoe Shine Boy”--Basie wanted that dialog with Lester to come out under his own name).

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Well, even if not the battle of the century, this November 25, 1928 encounter between George E. Lee’s “Undefeated Novelty Singing Orchestra” and “Walter Page and His Famous Blue Devils, “Champions of the South,” at Paseo Hall shows the musical climate from which the Kansas City sound emerged. Among the members of the Blue Devils were Jimmy Rushing, Count Basie and Hot Lips Page, extreme left, and Walter Page, center. Frank Driggs Collection.
The first “Great Day in Harlem”-type photo, so named for the 1958 Esquire photograph of 57 jazz stars posing in Harlem and the subject of a 1994 documentary by that title, may have occurred in May 1930 in front of the American Federation of Musicians’ Local #627 in Kansas City. Posing for the photograph, from l-r, are the bands of George E. Lee, Bennie Moten and Paul Banks. Appearing in both the 1930 and 1958 photographs were Count Basie and Jimmy Rushing, seen with Bennie Moten in a detail from the picture. Frank Driggs Collection.
Bennie Moten's Band, Kansas City, behind Old Folks Home, 1929. Band members included, l-r, Jimmy Rushing, Jack Washington, Woodie Walder, Count Basie, Leroy Berry, Bus Moten, Eddie Durham, Willie McWashington, Vernon Page, Thamon Hayes, Harlan Leonard, Ed Lewis, Booker Washington, Bennie Moten
 
Bennie Moten Orchestra, Fairyland Park, Kansas City, 1931. Band members included, front row, l-r, Vernon Page, Count Basie, Hot Lips Page, Ed Lewis, Thamon Hayes, Woodie Walder, Buster Berry, Harlen Leonard, Booker Washington, Willie McWashington and Jack Washington; and rear row, Bennie Moten, Bus Moten and Jimmy Rushing. Frank Driggs Collection.
 
Live remote radio broadcasts from the Reno Club, seen in 1938 photograph, skyrocketed the Count Basie Orchestra to fame when talent scout John Hammond heard the band. He brought the legendary First Testament Band to New York in 1938 and was responsible for some of the band’s important early recordings. Frank Driggs Collection.
 
Texan-born trumpet star Oran “Hot Lips” Page appears with the Bennie Moten Orchestra at the Reno Club in Kansas City in this November 1936 photograph. Musicians seen in the photograph include, l-r, Bus Moten, piano; Jesse Price, drums; Billy Hadnott, bass; Orville DeMoss, alto saxophone; Page; unidentified alto saxophonist; Dee Stewart, trumpet; and Odell West, tenor saxophone. Frank Driggs Collection.
 
Bennie Moten Orchestra, shown in 1931, was near its peak when this photograph was made. Band members included Jimmy Rushing, Count Basie and Bennie Moten, foreground, and, Hot Lips Page, left; Ed Lewis, third from left; Thamon Hayes, fourth from left; Eddie Durham, sixth from left; Harlan Leonard, seventh from left; Jack Washington, second from right; and Buster Moten, right. Frank Driggs Collection.
 
Count Basie publicity photo on postcard, late 1930s.
Basie publicity photo with Harry Edison on trumpet and Robert Taylor on trombone.
 
It was a big night at the Apollo Theater in 1937 with the Count Basie Orchestra in residence. Jimmy Rushing, known as Mr. 5x5 for his girth and equally expansive talent, struts across the stage during one of his numbers. Basie conducts the band as trombonist Benny Morton stands out in front for his solo. The band's piano player more often led the band from the keyboard. Photos by Duncan Butler. Frank Driggs Collection.
 
 
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