Pianist and bandleader Count Basie
at the Aquarium, New York City, c. 1946-1948.
Courtesy of William P. Gottlieb.
Born August 21, 1904, in Red Bank, NJ
Died April 26, 1984, in Hollywood, FL
“I’ve always played happy music,” William “Count” Basie once said. “Music that people can tap their feet to.... That’s what I intend to keep on playing.” He kept that pledge for nearly fifty years.
There were two great Basie bands. The first, “Old Testament,” version was loose, loping, and suffused with an optimism perfectly suited to buoy the spirits of a people battered by the Great Depression. With Jo Jones on drums and Lester Young playing tenor saxophone, it set a standard for swinging to which most other bands could only aspire. After first hearing it, Benny Goodman said, “There is nothing like the pure swing this outfit has."
The “New Testament” band that emerged in the 1950s was tight and brassy and built around arrangements that highlighted the great dynamic range of Basie’s musicians.
But both bands were rooted in the blues. And at the heart of each was the unmistakable, irresistible piano style of its leader. A native of Red Bank, New Jersey who had apprenticed with the masters of Harlem stride, Basie found his musical home in the wide-open entertainment capital of the Southwest, Kansas City, Missouri, where, he remembered, “you could hear the blues from every window.” Witty and economical, but always calculated to encourage his men on to greater effort, never playing five notes when one would do, his playing embodied the jazz definition of “less is more.”
“The band,” a Basie sideman once explained, “doesn’t feel as good until he’s up there. He makes everybody play differently.... It’s almost like having a big father on the bandstand.”
Learn More: newarkwww.rutgers.edu/ijs/cb
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