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William James Basie's Biography

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William James Basie's Biography

During the heyday of the swing era, many big bands flourished. Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Glen Miller, and Chick Webb fronted big bands that could swing, but none of these legends could swing like the Count Basie Orchestra. Count Basie proved that a big band could still swing, without losing the spontaneity so essential to jazz.

William James Basie was born August 21, 1904 in Red Bank, New Jersey (Hare, par. 3). His father was a coachman and caretaker for a wealthy judge, and his mother took in laundry to help with the family's financial situation. Between the two of them, there was enough money to pay for piano lessons for young William (Morgenstern, pars. 1-2).

Young Basie longed for a life in showbiz. He quit school early on, and eventually wound up in New York City in 1924 (Murray 45-48). It was in Harlem where Basie met the great stride piano player Fats Waller (Biographies, par. 2). Waller informally taught Basie the intricacies of the organ and introduced him to other stride luminaries James P. Johnson and Willie "The Lion" Smith (Dance 9). These early influences would have a lasting impact on Basie, contributing a great deal to his distinctive minimalist style.

Basie began his professional music career in the vaudeville circuit within New York (Carattini, par. 2). He toured around the country for several years with various vaudeville acts. In 1927, while touring with the Theater Owners Booking Association or TOBA, under the leadership of Gonzell White, Basie ended up stranded in Kansas City, Missouri when W...

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