Basie was born in Red Bank, New Jersey. His father, Harvey Lee Basie, worked as coachman for a wealthy family. After automobiles replaced horses, his father became a groundskeeper and handyman for several area families. His mother, Lilly Ann Basie, 'took in laundry'. Basie learned how to play piano as a child.
Basie toured the vaudeville circuit starting in 1924 as a soloist and accompanist to blues singers. In 1928 he joined Walter Page's Blue Devils, and the following year became the pianist with the Bennie Moten band based in Kansas City, Missouri. After Moten died in 1935, Basie became leader and started referring to himself as "Count Basie".
At the end of 1936 he moved his band to New York City where the Count Basie Orchestra remained until 1950. The big band era appeared to be at an end, but Basie reformed his as a 16-piece orchestra in 1952 and led it until his death. Basie remained faithful to the Kansas City jazz style and helped keep jazz alive with his distinctive piano playing.
Basie was not just a great musician; instead he brought together a bunch of musicians - good musicians nonetheless, but just musicians - and created something more - a band.
Count Basie died in Hollywood, Florida at age 79.
One O'Clock Jump and Jumpin' at the Woodside were among Count Basie's more popular numbers.
- Download sample of "Jumpin' at the Woodside" by Count Basie & His Orchestra, a popular swing song by a jazz legend