Born: February 9, 1900 | Died: 1957 Primary Instrument: Bass, acoustic
The territorial bands were based primarily in Oklahoma and Texas. Territorial bands earned that name by touring a circuit that extended south to the Mexican border, north to Canada, west to Denver and east to St. Louis. These bands were musical scrappers and very protective of their turf. Disputes were settled by bare-knuckled cutting contests called battles of the bands. Walter Page made his initial musical mark as the leader of the Blue Devils, one of the southwest's most notorious territorial bands.
Walter Page was born in Gallatin, Missouri. His musical training began at Lincoln High School. His formal studies continued at University of Kansas at Lawrence. While a student at KU, Page played weekends with Bennie Moten and Dave Lewis' bands. After leaving school in 1923, Page toured with Billy King's roadshow on the TOBA circuit. Page formed the Blue Devils in Oklahoma City in 1925.
The major innovation of the Blue Devils was the band's use of a modern rhythm section that included a string bass, piano, guitar and drums. Previously, the rhythm section of most bands consisted of bass horn, piano and banjo. Due to Page's strong bass work, the rhythm section provided a flexible foundation for tight ensemble work in the horn and reed sections.
The Blue Devils improvised from head arrangements and, according to Page, they shared the same musical ideas. But they shared more than ideas. The Blue Devils was a commonwealth band that divided its profits evenly among members. If a band member had a problem or crisis, the other members would rally to his aid. Decisions pertaining to bookings and personnel changes also were handled democratically and each member had a vote.
The Blue Devils toured Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Missouri in a Stoddard-Dayton touring car playing small clubs and dime-a-dance halls. They made their only recordings in Kansas City. Blue Devil Blues and Squabblin' were recorded for the Vocalion label in the studios of WDAF on November 10, 1929. Squabblin' featured a fine clarinet solo by Buster Smith and Blue Devil Blues showcased the strong blues vocal style of Jimmy Rushing.
While in Kansas City, Page wanted to battle Bennie Moten's band in the worst way. But Bennie kept his distance and wisely began to recruit members of the Blue Devils. He signed pianist Count Basie first and Eddie Durham, Lips Page and Jimmy Rushing soon followed suit.
Page rebuilt the band after Moten's raids with new recruits Lester Young, Ernie Williams, Druie Bess and others. In 1932, Page was fined by the musicians' union after a contractual dispute with a piano player. Financially strapped, Page relinquished the helm of the Blue Devils to Buster Smith and Ernie Williams. The next year Page joined Basie, Rushing and Durham in the last great Moten band. Page later played with Count Basie and Buster Smith in the eight-piece band known as the Barons of Swing, which opened at the Reno Club.
From 1935 to 1942 Page was with Count Basie's band and was part of the innovative “All-American” rhythm section during that band's classic period. He returned to Basie in 1946�48, and then spent the rest of his career freelancing in swing bands.
Early in his career Page played baritone saxophone and tuba, and as a string bassist he was a principal figure in the rise of 4/4 meter in jazz. His evenly accented, four-beat “walking” bass lines provided not only a harmonic foundation but a melodic counterpoint in his accompaniments, and he chose notes that enhanced the playing of his bands and soloists. His beat was the foundation of his bands' pulse and momentum; in Basie's rhythm section it was perfectly synchronized with the guitar of Freddie Greene and the drums of Jo Jones.
Page did some fine work in the Vanguard “Jam Sessions,” of the early ‘50’s led by Vic Dickenson and Buck Clayton. He spent his remaining years playing with Eddie Condon's Dixieland bands and with his friends from the swing world, including Hot Lips Page, Jimmy Rushing, and various Basie alumni.
Walter Page, since his days with the Blue Devils, and Count Basie, was one of the great bass players in the swing era. He was much admired, and his early death in 1957, may be a reason for his lack of broader recognition.
Source: James Nadal