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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 band was on its way. Before long, Hammond, having heard Freddie Green in a little band at a joint called the Black Cat, brought Basie into hear this unique guitarist, and Fiddler Williams was issued his walking papers. (Freddie and Basie would stay together until the very end.) Hammond also managed to hook Billie Holiday up with Basie--the band needed a girl singer, and who could think of a better one? Only hitch: due to Billie's contract with Vocalion, she could not record with Basie (but some airchecks survive).

By the time the band came into the Famous Door on 52nd Street (the club had to remove its tiny dance floor, and Hammond footed the bill to install air conditioning--it was the first time a big band had been in residence on Swing Street) it had clicked with such classic records as “One O'Clock Jump” (created at the Reno, with Buster Smith making up the reed parts and Lips Page setting down the brass riffs) and “Jumping’ at the Woodside”. And at the Famous Door, it got national exposure a couple of times a week via a CBS network pickup. (Some of these wonderful air checks have been issued on Sony’s recent Basie box--dig “Moten Swing” for a tempo and groove not to be found on studio recordings from the 78 era.)

Buck, Lester and Herschel were still on board. Benny Morton was in the trombone section, and Eddie Durham had been replaced by Dickie Wells, so now there were two brilliant soloists in that department. And Harry "Sweets" Edison had come in on trumpet, a perfect contrast to Buck Clayton, while Moten veteran Ed Lewis handled the lead. The leader of the sax section had been, for some time, the sterling Earle Warren, and when Herschel Evans died tragically of a heart condition at not yet 30, his fellow Texan Buddy Tate came in, to stay for a decade.

By the end of the l930s, the Jump King of Swing, as Basie was now billed, had taken his place in the front ranks of what was by now THE popular music of the day. No band ever swung more, or more supply. No band ever plumbed the many moods and grooves of the blues with greater mastery. No band explored the secrets of time with more authority, anchored in what was rightly dubbed "The All-American Rhythm Section." And at its heart was Bill Basie, the man with the magic keyboard touch, setting the pace with that minimalist style, pared down from the stride mastery displayed on Moten's “Prince of Wails” to the bare but oh so buoyant essentials of swing. There had never been anything like the Count Basie Orchestra before, and there never will be again.


Handbill for a weeklong appearance at the Apollo Theater by Count Basie with singers Billie Holiday and Jimmy Rushing. Frank Driggs Collection.
Billie Holiday and Count Basie, late 1930s. Frank Driggs Collection.
Count Basie and Louis Armstrong meet up on the road in 1938 in Akron, Ohio. Joining them were trombonist J. C. Higginbotham and Basie’s featured vocalist at the time, Helen Humes. Frank Driggs Collection.
Publicity photograph of Count Basie, 1937. Frank Driggs Collection.
The Count Basie Orchestra plays to a packed house and stage during the December 1938 Spirituals-to-Swing concert staged at Carnegie Hall by John Hammond. The concert marked the debut of the Basie band in a concert hall setting. Frank Driggs Collection.
Lester Young plays full throttle during the Basie Orchestra’s appearance at a 1938 concert at Randall’s Island in New York. Pictured at left are saxophonists Herschel Evans and Earle Warren. Motion picture film exists of a portion of the concert, although there is no sound of the proceedings. Frank Driggs Collection.
Catherine Morgan, the future Mrs. Count Basie, was a member of the Whitman Sisters dance company before going out as a solo act. Married in August 1942, they remained a couple until her death in the spring of 1983.
Lester Young solos as the Count Basie Orchestra plays a concert at Treasure Island in San Francisco in 1939. Band member, l-r, include Count Basie; Walter Page, bass; Buddy Tate, tenor saxophone; Freddie Green, guitar; Jo Jones, drums; Earle Warren, tenor saxophone; Buck Clayton, trumpet; Benny Morton, trombone; Ed Lewis, trumpet; Jack Washington, baritone saxophone; Lester Young; Dan Miner, trombone; and Harry Edison, trumpet. Frank Driggs Collection.
The Count Basie Orchestra works out in a recording studio. Despite John Hammond’s decisive role in bringing the band to New York and his connections with Columbia Records, Decca Records locked the band up for its important first burst of recording. Frank Driggs Collection.
Count Basie and Chick Webb, their bands and star vocalists—Billie Holiday with Basie and Ella Fitzgerald with Webb—face off in a “Battle of Swing” at the Savoy Ballroom on January 16, 1938. That evening, Count Basie and members of his orchestra took part in Benny Goodman’s historic concert at Carnegie Hall. Frank Driggs Collection.
Trumpeters Buck Clayton, Ed Lewis, and Harry “Sweets” Edison blowing their way into history during the band’s engagement at New York’s Famous Door in 1938. Basie’s promoters paid to install air-conditioning in the club to bring in more patrons.
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