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The contributions and influence of jazz bandleader Count Basie remains strong to this day. The New Jersey native was born August 21, 1904 in the town of Red Bank.

William James Basie was born to parents with musical backgrounds, thus he had little choice but to take to music. As a child, his mother taught him piano lessons, although later he became known for his organ work.

In the early to mid-twenties, Basie toured the Midwest as a vaudeville musician .He settled in Harlem, where he eventually crossed paths with Fats Waller, who taught him the ins and outs of the organ around 1925. In 1928, while touring in Kansas City, Mo., Basie connected with Walter Page’s Blue Devils, a prominent Kansas City jazz band.

Basie’s stint with the band only lasted a year, and he joined Bennie Moten’s band before leaving and forming his own set, The Barons of Rhythm, made up of members from Moten’s band. The time in Kansas City would prove to be fruitful as Basie continued to learn more about the swing style while improving upon the big band sound that defined much of his career.

The nickname “Count” came in 1936 while playing in Kansas City. Known then to audiences as Bill Basie, an announcer felt that Basie’s name didn’t live up to his talent like Duke Ellington and Earl Hines. Basie went along with the name choice and it managed to stick.

In all, Basie released three dozen studio albums, recording into the early ‘80’s. In 1959, Basie was the first African-American male artist to win a Grammy Award, taking home two trophies in the jazz category.

Basie passed at the age of 79 in 1984.

PHOTO: Public Domain

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