Count Basie: One O’Clock Jump

26 Apr

Count Basie

The Essential Count Basie Volume I

Remembering William Basie, better known as Count, on the day of his death in 1984.

One name says it all for Basie, as it does for Dizzy or Duke or Bird or Trane. Count Basie said he was Bill Basie until one night in the 1930s.

From John S. Wilson’s New York Times obit on Basie’s death at nytimes.com: “One night the announcer called me to the microphone for those usual few words of introduction,” Mr. Basie once recalled. “He commented that Bill Basie was a rather ordinary name and that there were a couple of well-known bandleaders named Earl Hines and Duke Ellington. Then he said, ‘Bill, I think I’ll call you Count Basie from now on. Is that all right with you?’ I thought he was kidding, shrugged my shoulders and replied, ‘O.K.’ Well, that was the last time I was ever introduced as Bill Basie. From then on, it was Count Basie.”

Born in New Jersey in 1904, Basie started playing piano with his mother, and virtually never stopped performing, despite whatever hardships — financial or physical — came his way. He disbanded his band in 1950 only to form another; at the end of his life he often performed from a wheelchair.

In 1959, he and Ella Fitzgerald were the first African-Americans to win Grammy Awards.

Basie was 79 when he died of pancreatic cancer.

Fellow pianist George Shearing, from Wilson’s New York Times obit: “Can you imagine a man who kind of romps around the piano,” Mr. Shearing said, “and those tiny tinkling things. You never got tired of that business at the end.”

Sources: ntyimes.org, pbs.org, swingmusic.net

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