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Count Basie Count Basie

Count Basie is an NEA Jazz Master

Bill Basie studied music with his mother as a child and played piano in early childhood. He picked up the basics of early ragtime from some of the great Harlem pianists and studied organ informally with Fats Waller. He made his professional debut as an accompanist for vaudeville acts and replaced Waller in an act called Katie Crippen and her Kids. He also worked with June Clark and Sonny Greer who was later to become Duke Ellington’s drummer.

It was while traveling with the Gonzel White vaudeville show that Basie became stranded in Kansas City when the outfit suddenly broke up. He played at a silent movie house for a while and then became a member of the Walter Page Blue Devils in 1928 and ’29. Included in the ranks of the Blue Devils was a blues shouter who was later to play a key role as early male vocalist with Basie’s own big band, Jimmy Rushing. It was in fact the rotund Rushing who happened to hear Basie playing in Kansas City and invited him to attend a Blue Devil's performance. Basie soon joined the band after sitting in with them that night.

After Page's Blue Devils broke up Count Basie and some of the other band members integrated into the Bennie Moten band. He remained with Moten until his death in 1935. After Moten’s death the band continued under the leadership of Bennie’s brother Buster, but Basie started a group of his own and soon found a steady gig at the Reno Club in Kansas City employing some of the best personnel from the Moten band himself.

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