(born William Basie)
August 21, 1904 - April 26,
Count Basie cultivated one of the warmest
relationships with the blues. Not only did he employ great blues and blues-based singers
in his bands- Jimmy Rushing , Helen Humes, Billie
Holiday, and later, Big Joe Williams all sang for
Basie-but virtually all of his catalogue was woven with bluesy rhythmic threads, and his
piano playing almost always contained strong blues notions.
Basie learned the rudiments of the blues as a youth in New York, where he often backed blues singers in Harlem clubs. By his early '20s, young William began playing piano in vaudeville troupes that toured the South. He joined Walter Page's Blue Devils in 1928, the hottest of the Kansas City blues-based swing bands, after being stranded in Kansas City and meeting Jimmy Rushing, the band's vocalist. However, Basie soon jumped to Bennie Moten's band, another Kansas City group with strong blues ties. In 1935, after Moten's sudden death, Basie started his own band with musicians from Moten's outfit. From the beginning, Basie integrated elements of the blues into his band's repertoire. With top-notch soloists, such as the saxophone players Herschel Evans and Lester Young, trumpeter Buck Clayton, trombonist Dickie Wells; a rhythm section that included drummer Jo Jones, bass player Walter Page, and rhythm guitarist Freddie Green, and the blues singers out in front of the band, Basie broadly defined the jazz-blues link.
Basie's relationship with the blues became more apparent to his mainstream audience when Joe Williams joined the band. In 1955, with Williams singing, the Basie Band cut its one and only hit single, "Everyday I Have the Blues." The song made it to number 2 on the R&B charts.
The Count continued leading his band through the 1960s and early 1970s. In 1976 he suffered a heart attack, and though he recovered, Basie performed only when his health permitted. In 1984 he died of cancer. His band has continued on under the leadership of Thad Jones and then Frank Foster, both longtime members of the Basie Orchestra.