Born in 1904 to talented amateur musician parents, William Basie first learned to play the drums with his school band. While still in his teens, Basie began taking piano lessons from his mother. He later studied with the master of piano jazz, Fats Waller, who also taught Basie how to play the organ. Basie performed in the early 1920s in Harlem, a city with a rich musical night life. In 1926, he headed west to Kansas City, Missouri, where jazz had come into its own, and found his first job there playing pit organ for a theater. In 1935, he became the leader of a nine-piece band. Basie was renowned for having a fine sense of tempo and a distinctive playing style. “He left out more than a lot of people played,” commented Joe Williams, who sang for the Basie band in the 1950s. To promote himself, Basie adopted the nickname “Count” and had business cards printed with the saying “Beware – The Count is Here.” The name stuck. Basie and his band developed a swinging style that was large and robust, and appealed to audiences everywhere. The band’s notoriety attracted the best and the brightest, including such greats as Billie Holiday and Jimmy Rushing. For nearly five decades, Count Basie entertained audiences and his love for jazz never faltered. In the early 1980s, a series of illnesses made walking difficult for Basie, so he purchased an automatic wheel chair. With enormous flair, he would drive onto the stage, slide onto the piano bench and swing his band into spirited action.
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