William James Basie, also known by his stage name Count Basie, was an American Jazz Pianist and Bandleader. He was one of the most influential bandleaders of the modern swing era.
William Basie was born in Red Bank, New Jersey on August 21, 1904. Both of his parents had some basic knowledge about music theory. His father was a mellophone player whereas his mother was a pianist. Thus, music became a part of young Basie’s early childhood education. Basie was not very interested in school; however, he took his music very seriously. He would often spend time at the Palace Theatre of Red Bank; there he observed the various improvisation techniques that were used at those times and he soon incorporated them in his playing. When Basie was fifteen, his talent was noticed and he ultimately start performing at amateur gigs, clubs, resorts and dances with fellow drummer Sonny Greer. He continued this way of life until 1927, when the troupe that he was part of broke up at Kansas City. He then joined Walter Page’s legendary Blue Devils in 1928, and it was with this band that he developed the stage name “Count Basie”. With the fame that Basie achieved with the Blue Devils, he went on to play with Benny Moten in 1929. Moten’s bands were known to play in the “Kansas City Stomp” style. Basie often played four hand piano with Benny Moten and the band’s electric performances earned Basie and Moten the reputation as the masters of swing music.
However, Benny Moten’s death in 1935 meant that Basie would have to come up with a new band of his own, which he did in 1936. Basie called it “Count Basie and His Barons of Rhythm”. The band had many members from Benny Moten’s band and it earned widespread acclaim and attention. Their releases “Shoe Shine Boy”, “Boogie Woogie”, “Evening”, and “Oh, Lady Be Good” were highly successful. The band moved to New York City in 1937 and he was introduced to Billie Holiday by his band’s producer John Hammond. The band performed at the famous Apollo Theatre multiple times. The band was also famous for performing at the Roseland Ballroom and at the Savoy. Basie received plenty of positive reviews for his performances at Roseland.
Count Basie won a total of nine Grammy Awards during his lifetime, these included four awards for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, and one award for Best Jazz Performance by a Soloist. Four of his records were inducted to the highly prestigious Grammy Hall of Fame. These records included the 1937 record “One O’clock Jump”,1939 record “Lester Leaps In”, the 1955 records “Every day I have the blues” and “April in Paris”. He also received many honors posthumously, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan in 1985.
William James Basie died on April 26, 1984 in Hollywood, Florida.