Born to parents who were both musicians in 1904, William James Basie was constantly surrounded by music. He began piano lessons with his mother, but he also studied with stride pianists such as Fats Waller.
He began his career in music as an accompanist for Vaudeville performers which took him to Kansas City where he remained after the group fell apart in 1927. It was not long after when he joined up with Walter Page’s Blue Devils and Bennie Moten’s group. After Moten’s death in 1935, Basie started a group called the Barons of Rhythm and it was as part of this group that he received the nickname “Count” Basie after a radio announcer referred to the pianist as such during a live broadcast.
It was also during one of these live Broadcasts that he earned his “break.” Journalist and producer John Hammond heard Count Basie during a live broadcast performance and began pitching the performer to a variety of agents and record companies. Not long after, the band began performing in Chicago and New York and it was during this period that “One O’Clock Jump” became the theme song for the group.
In 1958 Count Basie won two Grammy Awards, one for “Best Performance by a Dance Band” and another for “Best Jazz Performance Group” for the album Basie released on Roulette Records. He also received several further nominations and Grammy Awards for later performances and recordings.
In 1976, Basie suffered a heart attack and his health began to slowly decline. He passed away due to cancer at the age of 79.
Pianist Count Basie is arguably one of the most important and influential bandleaders of the swing era which took place in the mid-30s to mid 40s. Although he was not a significant composer, such as fellow bandleader Duke Ellington, Basie built a reputation as an incomparable bandleader.