Count Basie

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Count Basie performing at the New York jazz club Aquarium, around 1947.
Photograph by William P. Gottlieb .

Count Basie , born as William Allen Basie (* 21st August 1904 in Red Bank , New Jersey ; † 26. April 1984 in Hollywood , Florida ) was an American jazz pianist , organist , composer and one of the greatest bandleader of the Swing .

Basie became popular as the last of the great pianist band leaders. Despite the unstable market conditions, he managed - with the exception of 1950/51 - to employ a large orchestra throughout. For almost 50 years he led the Count Basie Orchestra , through which many musicians such as the tenor saxophonists Lester Young and Herschel Evans , the trumpeters Buck Clayton and Sweets Edison became known and with singers such as Jimmy Rushing , Helen Humes , Joe Williams , Frank Sinatra , Judy Garland , Bing Crosby , Ella Fitzgerald , Tony Bennett and Sammy Davis Jr. performed. As recently as 1980, it reached an audience of several generations. Basie's theme songs were One O'Clock Jump and April in Paris .


Adolescent years

Basie's father, Harvey Lee Basie, worked as a coachman and janitor for a lawyer, his mother's name was Lilly Ann Childs Basie. His brother, eight years older than himself, died when Basie was still a child. His father played the mellophone , a kind of horn ; He received his first piano lessons from his mother at home. Basie later took piano lessons from a "Miss Vandevere". He played briefly as a drummer and trained himself further in New Jersey and New York City .

His piano playing was influenced by Thomas "Fats" Waller , who was three months his senior , whom he regularly visited in the mid-1920s at the Lincoln Theater in Harlem, where Waller accompanied silent films on the Wurlitzer organ. Waller first let Basie play the pedal and then continued to guide him to film accompaniment until he was temporarily relieved of him while he played pinochle. Waller slowly explained to him the distribution of colored accompaniment and free thematic work on the two manuals as well as the "stops". As a teenager, he helped out at the Palace Theater in Red Bank to earn some extra money. When the pianist of the theater did not show up one evening, Basie was put at the piano without further ado and from then on provided music for silent films . He also played with Elmer Snowden's band and with June Clark .

Career in the age of swing

For several years, the young Bill Basie, as he was then called, toured the variety shows as a solo artist, alongside blues singers , e. B. Gonzelle White and Theater Groups (TOBA) . In 1928 he joined Walter Pages “Blue Devils,” and the following year he became arranger and second pianist for the Bennie Moten Band in Kansas City, Missouri . In 1933, the musicians of Moten's band voted on the band leader and chose Basie. He founded his own band Count Basie and His Cherry Blossom Orchestra with the "Motenverrätern" in 1933 (after the club of the same name in the former Eblon Theater). Moten also had his own band. However, Basie's band got smaller and smaller until only Jo Jones and himself remained. In 1935 Basie played again for Moten. After Moten's death in 1935, Basie left the band, put his own together and started his career as "Count Basie". In January 1937 Basie's first recordings were made under his own name - for reasons of contract for Columbia under the name "Jones Smith Inc." . His own big band , which consisted for the most part of Moten's musicians, quickly became nationally popular with their hits in the national charts at Decca , OkeH , Vocalion and Columbia in the next few years (from 1938) ; her first hit was " One O'Clock Jump " in 1937 . The material of this first baseband consisted mainly of head arrangements of blue themes . The first arrangements contributed Eddie Durham ( "Topsy" , "John's Idea" ), who began to develop a Basie style. The band included u. a. Lester Young and Herschel Evans ( ts ), Earle Warren ( as ), Buck Clayton and Harry Sweets Edison ( tp ), Dicky Wells ( tb ), Freddie Green ( git ), Walter Page ( b ) and Jo Jones ( dr ). Double concerts and big band battles were in demand in the late 1930s and early 1940s. A famous big band battle then took place on the same day of the famous Bennie Goodman Carnegie Hall concert in 1938 on January 16, 1938 in the Savoy Ballroom between the Basie Orchestra and Chick Webb's orchestra (Basie played 2 concerts that evening), from which Basie and his band emerged victorious. Characteristic was the big band style of the basie formations, which was characterized by a very traditional style of swing music that was closely based on blues and boogie-woogie . The respective rhythm sections were famous for their exceptional quality and conciseness (the designation All American Rhythm Section by Paul Whiteman for the rhythm section of the Old Testament Band from Basie, Freddie Green, Jo Jones and Walter Page stuck). Basie's piano style itself remained largely true to its tradition as a music hall pianist, using an improvisational, economical approach that was always in the service of the ensemble. He seldom gave a virtuoso solo.

Zenith with difficulty

For economic reasons, Basie had to break up his big band in late 1949. It was replaced by a septet in early 1950. In addition to Count Basie, trumpeter Clark Terry , saxophonist Charlie Rouse , clarinetist Buddy DeFranco , guitarist Freddie Green, bassist Jimmy Lewis and drummer Gus Johnson played . The big band era gradually came to an end, but in 1952 Basie formed a new band, the "New Testament Band" with Marshall Royal (as) as concertmaster, Eddie Lockjaw Davis (ts), Joe Newman (tp) and Paul Quinichette ( ts). Thanks to new arrangers and jazz celebrities like Thad Jones (tp), Frank Wess and Frank Foster (ts) ('The two Franks') and Henry Coker (tb), he made a terrific comeback with the new formation. The moving sound with the block-like ensemble passages was typical for the later band. The early and formerly successful sound of Kansas City jazz no longer reached audiences in 1949. An example of this early sound is the jam session at Bennie Goodman's Carnegie Hall concert in 1938 . It is not particularly outstanding in terms of quality. Gunther Schuller describes another difference: “The early Basie band floated on the rhythm section, the new one was rooted in it.” However, Basie retained his claim to the musicians: “I want these four trumpets and three trombones to grab the ball. But with as much taste and feeling as the three brass players I had in Kansas City ... "

The vacuum left by the lack of soloists in the early 1950s was filled by the arrangers who gave the Basie band its profile for the second phase. As composers and arrangers, Ernie Wilkins shaped the later sound and repertoire with z. B. Sixteen Man , Frank Foster with Blues Backstage , Thad Jones and Quincy Jones . From the outside, Neal Hefti , among others, brought beautiful pieces into the program that were a little different and not in keeping with the style of the Basie Band, but very musical. From Hefti, for example, Li'l Darling has become a standard. Neal Hefti was able to fall back on arrangements by the first band from 1938 such as Jumpin 'at the Woodside or Every Tub . The poll results of the 1950s showed that this strategy worked. Basie won the Down Beat critic polls between 1954 and 1957 and the reader polls in 1955 and 1957. In the first half of the 1960s, several European tours and festival appearances took place; In 1963 Basie played in sold out halls in Japan. In 1965 Basie appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival with Frank Sinatra and played a few pop-oriented albums in the following years , such as Pop Goes the Basie or Basie on the Beatles (1970).

Next life

Count Basie (left) in 1975 during a concert in Cologne

The nickname "Count", in German "Graf", was given to him by a radio presenter for reasons of advertising strategy: In the early years of jazz, such "aristocratic" nicknames were very popular ( Joe " King " Oliver , Edward " Duke " Ellington or Bessie Smith , the "Empress of the Blues"). Basie rejected the "title of nobility" and preferred to be addressed by friends and the musicians of his band as "Bill" or "Base".

Basie recorded two albums with Ella Fitzgerald in the 1970s , played a series of concerts in small ensembles at the Montreux Jazz Festival , which were also published, won several Grammy Awards and continued to tour internationally - quite unusual for big bands at the time. Since 1976, his heart disease has forced him to use a wheelchair more frequently. In 1977 he continued the series of his Newport appearances and began to write down his memories with Albert Murray (the autobiography was only published posthumously in 1985 under the title Good Morning Blues by Random House ). In 1979 the biographical documentary "To the Count of Basie" was shown with commentary by Annie Ross . In 1980 the band leader started his last European tour. In the same year he was honored for his contributions to American music with the Achievement in Life Award of the Encyclopædia Britannica . He was also awarded several honorary doctorates in the last years of his life. He died of cancer shortly after the death of his wife.

Basie was a Freemason at Wisdom Lodge No. 102 in Chicago, Illinois, USA.

1985 gave US President Ronald Reagan Basie posthumously the Medal of Freedom ( "The Presidential Medal of Freedom"), the highest civilian honor in the United States.


Basie's peculiarity was a certain minimalism; his music managed without complicated harmonies and melodic labyrinths. He showed that a large group can swing with the ease of a small one. In his bands, whose rhythmic power and unity seemed natural, he nevertheless gathered extraordinary soloists. As a pianist he worked in his band as a "rhythmic catalyst " ( Johnny Mandel ) with a feel for the right tempo, which motivated his musicians. "Through extreme economy" he set effective accents on the piano and created tension with clever pauses.

The nucleus of the basies of various bands were the rhythm groups with their characteristic, springy beat . Basies saw riffs as thematic material (and not as ornamentation in the arrangement ). With short riffs in the structure of call and response and extreme dynamic differentiation, he stylized the tradition of Kansas City jazz .

Basie not only discovered some of the best blues singers such as Billie Holiday , Jimmy Rushing , Joe Turner and Joe Williams , but also accompanied numerous singers such as B. Frank Sinatra , Sammy Davis Jr. , Ray Charles , Tony Bennett and singers like Helen Humes , Ella Fitzgerald , Sarah Vaughan . Benny Carter , Ernie Wilkins , Quincy Jones , whom he also discovered as a manager, worked as arrangers for him , Thad Jones , Neal Hefti , Bill Holman , Sammy Nestico and Frank Foster . After Jimmy Dorsey's death in 1957, Basie not only took over many of the arrangements that Neal Hefti, Ernie Wilkins and Thad Jones had written for the Dorsey Band, but also their most important musicians - above all the trumpeters Paul Cohen and Charlie Shavers . Other members of the Basie Band were (apart from the above) u. a .: Eddie Jones (b), John Clayton (b), Preston Love (as), Reunald Jones (tp), Al Gray (tb), Cleveland Eaton (b), Dennis Rowland , Charles Turner and Chris Murrell .

After his death on April 26, 1984, Thad Jones, Frank Foster and later Grover Mitchell took over the leadership of the big band; The Count Basie Orchestra exists to this day and, after the departure of Bill Hughes in 2010, is led by Dennis Mackrel , the last drummer personally appointed by Count Basie in 1983 .

For the further history of the band see Count Basie Orchestra .


Discographic notes

The early titles Basies from the shellac era since 1937 by Decca , OkeH , Vocalion and Columbia are documented on the albums of the companies Classics and Hep .
The albums are worth highlighting from the extensive discography:

Well-known singles

Main article: List of the Count Basie Orchestra's top 30 shellac records

  • April in Paris
  • Basie Boogie
  • Bugle Blues
  • Cute
  • Dance of the Gremlins
  • Flight of the Foo Birds
  • Green onions
  • I'll Always Be in Love with You
  • Jive at Five
  • Jumpin 'at the Woodside
  • Lil 'darlin
  • Little pony
  • Midgets
  • Moten swing
  • One O'Clock Jump
  • Plymouth Rock
  • Rock-a-bye Basie
  • Shiny stockings
  • Shoe Shine Boy
  • Shout and Feel It
  • Splanky
  • Sleepwalker's Serenade
  • Swing Brother Swing
  • Swinging the blues
  • The Count Steps in
  • The Kid from Red Bank
  • The Me and You That Used to Be
  • They Can't Take That Away from Me
  • When My Dreamboat Comes Home
  • Whirly Bird


Count Basie Grammy History
year category title genre result
1982 Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Big Band Warm breeze jazz winner
1984 Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Big Band 88 Basie Street jazz winner
1980 Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Big Band On the road jazz winner
1977 Best Jazz Performance By A Big Band Prime time jazz winner
1976 Best Jazz Performance By A Soloist (Instrumental) Basie and Zoot jazz winner
1963 Best Performance By An Orchestra - For Dancing This Time By Basie! Hits Of The 50's And 60's pop winner
1960 Best Performance By A Band For Dancing Dance with Basie pop winner
1958 Best Performance By A Dance Band Basie pop winner
1958 Best Jazz Performance, Group Basie jazz winner

Grammy Hall of Fame

Four titles have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, a special award given to recordings that are at least 25 years old and of qualitative or historical significance.

Count Basie Grammy Hall of Fame Awards
Year of admission title genre Label Induction into the Hall of Fame
1939 Lester Leaps In Jazz (single) Vocalion 2005
1955 Every day I have the blues Jazz (single) Clef 1992
1955 April in Paris Jazz (single) Clef 1985
1937 One O'Clock Jump Jazz (single) Decca 1979

Awards and honors

Count Basie and Bob Crosby, circa 1941.
Photograph by William P. Gottlieb .

On May 23, 1985, Count Baise was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan . The award was received by his son, Aaron Woodward.

On September 11, 1996, the US Post Office issued a 32 cent postage stamp from Basie as part of a Big Band Leader issue as part of a Legends of American Music series.

On November 8, 2019, an asteroid was named after him: (35394) Countbasie .

History of the Count Basie Awards
year category Award
2007 Long Island Music Hall of Fame Recorded
2005 Nesuhi Ertegün Jazz Hall of Fame Recorded
2002 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner
1983 NEA Jazz Masters winner
1981 Grammy Trustees Award winner
1981 Kennedy Center Honors Award winners
late 1970s Hollywood Walk of Fame Award winners
1958 Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame Recorded

Special titles

The song Blues in Hoss' Flat from the album Chairman of the Board serves Jerry Lewis in the film Der Bürotrottel as the musical basis for his pantomime as a company boss at a board meeting .

In 1958 he composed the theme tune for the television series M-Squad , which was considered a great honor as the Basie Band was the first black band to be successful in television in this way, but poorly paid. After the success of Henry Mancini's Peter Gunn theme, the producers wanted jazz music for subsequent episodes to replace Stanley Wilson's theme music . Basie composed the theme as a head arrangement based on a blues in C major almost immediately. The music was also used in the parody The Naked Pistol .

In 2005, the Count Basie song One O'Clock Jump was inducted into the United States National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress by the National Recording Preservation Committee . To this end, the committee annually selects songs of cultural, historical or aesthetic significance.



  • Count Basie (with Albert Murray): Good morning blues . Econ, Düsseldorf 1987
  • Stanley Dance: The world of Count Basie . 1980, since Capo 2001, ISBN 0-306-80245-7
  • Martin Kunzler : Jazz Lexicon. Volume 1: A – L (= rororo-Sachbuch. Vol. 16512). 2nd Edition. Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 2004, ISBN 3-499-16512-0 .
  • Alun Morgan : Count Basie . Hippocrene Books, New York / Turnbridge Wells, 1984
  • Reiner Nolden: Count Basie - his life, his music, his records . Oreos, Schaftlach 1990, ISBN 3-923657-30-7 .
  • Raymond Horricks: Count Basie and his orchestra . 1957, reprint: Negro Universities Press, Westport 1971,
  • Arrigo Polillo: Jazz . Piper, 1994
  • George T. Simon : The Big Bands . With a foreword by Frank Sinatra. 3rd revised edition. Macmillan Publishing, New York City / Collier Macmillan Publishers, London 1974, pp. 79-87
  • Studs Terkel : giants of jazz . Zweiausendeins, Frankfurt 2005, ISBN 3-86150-723-4

Web links

Commons : Count Basie  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b Count Basie, Albert Murray, Good Morning Blues , Autobiografie, Econ, 1987, English: Primus 1985
  2. a b c d Rainer Nolden: Count Basie - His life, his music, his records . collection jazz, oreos
  3. ^ A b Gunther Schuller: The Swing Era, The Development of Jazz 1930–1945 . New York / Oxford 1989.
  4. This is how he expresses himself in Hentoff, Shapiro (ed.): Hear me talkin to ya , 1955 - in his autobiography he remembers differently
  5. A few famous freemasons .
  6. Famous Freemasons - MWPHGLOH . ( Memento of the original of April 24, 2017 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  7. Martin Kunzler : Jazzlexikon , p. 71
  8. ^ Grammy Award
  9. ^ Grammy Hall of Fame database
  10. ^ Classic Themes, M-Squad
  11. 2005 National Recording Registry selection