Count Basie

(1904 – 1984)

William James “Count” Basie was an American jazz pianist, organist, bandleader, and composer. 

In 1935, he formed the Count Basie Orchestra, and in 1936 took them to Chicago for a long engagement and their first recording. He led the group for almost 50 years, creating innovations like the use of two “split” tenor saxophones, emphasizing the rhythm section, riffing with a big band, using arrangers to broaden their sound, and others. 

He was the arbiter of the big-band swing sound and his unique style of fusing blues and jazz established swing as a predominant music style. Basie changed the jazz landscape and shaped mid-20th century popular music, duly earning the title “King of Swing” because he made the world want to dance.

Many musicians came to prominence under his direction, including the tenor saxophonists Lester Young and Herschel Evans, the guitarist Freddie Green, trumpeters Buck Clayton and Harry “Sweets” Edison, plunger trombonist Al Grey, and singers Jimmy Rushing, Helen Humes, Thelma Carpenter, and Joe Williams.

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