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William James "Count" Basie Passes Away

Today in Masonic History William James "Count" Basie passes away in 1984.

William James "Count" Basie was an American jazz musician.

Basie was born in Red Bank, New Jersey on August 21st, 1904. Basie got his musical talents from his parents who were both musicians, though not professionally. Basie's mother gave him his first piano lesson and paid 25 cents a lesson for all his future piano lessons. Basie was not much of a student and dreamed of traveling the World. He was inspired by the traveling circuses that came through town. He honed his skills as a musician by working at a local theatre and putting music to the acts and the silent movies. Although Basie was skilled with the piano he preferred the drums only going back to the piano when another boy in town, Sonny Greer, was more skilled than Basie was with the drums. While still in Red Bank he would hang out the local pool hall where the other musicians were so he could hear the gossip and get a line on new gigs. He was mostly playing with pick-up groups before he left Red Bank.

At the age of 16, Basie headed to Harlem. Shortly after arriving he ran into Greer. Greer started introducing Basie to all the jazz, although it was not officially called jazz yet, musicians in Harlem. Most notably Basie was introduced to Duke Ellington, Greer was at the playing in one of Ellington's early bands.

During the rest of the 1920's Basie was in and out of Harlem. He was playing shows under the Theatre Owners Bookers Association (T.O.B.A.). Around 1928, Basie would start playing with he Blue Devils in Texas in Oklahoma. The Blue Devils were one of the early jazz bands of the time. It was while Basie was playing with the Blue Devils that he started to be known as "Count" Basie, making him jazz royalty. The term jazz royalty applies to those who have set themselves apart from the rest of the jazz community. Nicknames like Count, Duke and King were common.

Starting in 1929, Basie was playing with bands out of Kansas City, Missouri. Here Basie was mostly playing what would later be known as swing music. It was in Kansas City, Missouri that Basie married his first wife. The marriage only lasted until 1935 when the couple divorced.

In 1936, Basie and his band headed to Chicago. There Basie and his band worked with John Hammond, a producer and civil rights activist. Basie and his band had a recording session with Hammond, of which Hammond would say, "the only perfect, completely perfect recording session I've ever had anything to do with."

In 1937, Basie took the band to New York City where they received a tepid reception at best. Hammond encouraged the band to keep pushing forward introducing Basie to Billie Holiday who sang with the band. In 1938, Basie and the band played the Savoy where the "battle of the bands" would take place. Basie's band played with Billie Holiday singing and Chick Webb's group battled with them with Ella Fitzgerald on vocals. Basie's band came out on top and the big band battle gave them a recognition boost. Not long after, Benny Goodman's orchestra recorded Basie's signature piece "One O'Clock Jump."

During World War II the publics desire for big band music and swing music waned. Basie was not immune to this, although during the war he would get gigs playing on Armed Forces Radio.

In 1950, Basie would marry his second wife, the couple would remain together for the rest of their lives. It was also in the 1950's that Basie started touring Europe. Many jazz musicians worked their way around Europe where jazz and swing music were still very popular. Basie's band made two tours of the British Isles and had a command performance with Queen Elizabeth II. Another reason many musicians worked in Europe in the 1950's was to avoid the unrest due to the Civil Rights movement going on in the United States.

In 1961, Basie would play one of the 5 inaugural balls for John F. Kennedy. Through out the 60's Basie and his band would play around the country including Las Vegas.

In 1974, Basie appeared as himself in the Mel Brooks film Blazing Saddles.

Basie would pass away in Hollywood City, Florida from pancreatic cancer. He would pass away just one year after his wife.

Basie was a member of Wisdom Lodge No. 102 in Chicago, Illinois.