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Moten, Benjamin "Bennie"

November 13, 1894 -- April 2, 1935
pianist, band leader

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With the help of the Blue Devils whom he recruited in the late twenties, "Bennie" Moten established and defined Kansas City jazz style.

Moten was born in Kansas City. He played baritone horn in Dan Blackburn's Band. Shortly after World War I, he formed the B. B. & D. trio.

In September of 1923, the Moten band accompanied Ada Brown on what is considered the first recording of Kansas City Jazz, "Evil Mama Blues" real audio. Okeh was one of many "race" labels which catered to African Americans. In 1926, Moten began recording for the Victor label [26k image] and expanded the band to 11 pieces. "South"--recorded for the Victor label September 28, 1928 real audio -- proved to be a big hit through World War II.

image: news clip
One of Moten's strong points was his strong "business sense." When Moten's territory was threatened by the Blue Devils, he began recruiting from that band's ranks. Basie joined in 1929. Walter Page, Jimmy Rushing, Hot Lips Page and Eddie Durham followed. Durham brought a fine trombone style and great arrangements to the band.

The acquisition of all these members of the Blue Devils caused the exodus of long-time Moten Band members Thamon Hayes and Harlan Leonard who formed the Thamon Hayes Band.

When Moten hired Ben Webster and Eddie Barefield in 1932, the modernization of the band was complete. Later that same year Moten recorded "Moten's Swing" real audio, one of the first recordings to use a riff, the foundation of Kansas City jazz.

Moten merged with George E. Lee in 1933 and '34, forming a 15-piece orchestra that played the Harlem Nite Club at the site of the former Paseo Hall at 15th and Paseo.

Moten died in 1935. Out of the ashes of the Moten band rose the Basie band.

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Dance, Stanley.
The World of Count Basie. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1980.
Dexter, Dave E., Jr.
The Jazz Story, From the '90s to the '60s. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1964.
Russell, Ross.
Jazz Style in Kansas City and the Southwest. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971.
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News Clip Caption

announcement of a Bennie Moten engagement from the front page of the El Torreon News, 27 October 1928, Vol. 2, No. 7.

The body of the text reads:

We have had a great amount of requests to have Bennie Moten play the El Torreon sometime during the week as it is not always possible for everyone to be here Saturday or Sunday nites. We want everyone to have the chance to hear this great aggregation of colored stars, so on next Thursday nite, November 1st, you may dance to our own Phil Baxter and his El Torreon Orchestra as well as Bennie Moten and his Victor Recording Orchestra. Two great dance orchestras--Thursday nite. Tell your friends about it and be here yourself also. Yes, we will dance, as usual on Thursday nites until after midnite.
The El Torreon News is from the private collection of Dr. James P. Hopkins.
[ return to news clip ]
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