Pianist whose blues-based swing band, the Count Basie Orchestra, emerged from Kansas City in the 1930s to become one of the most important jazz bands of all time. Basie also made a few small-group recordings under the name Kansas City Seven.
William James "Count" Basie (August 21, 1904 – April 26, 1984) was an American jazz pianist, organist, bandleader, and composer. His mother taught him to play the piano and he started performing in his teens. Dropping out of school, he learned to operate lights for vaudeville and to improvise accompaniment for silent films at a local movie theater in his home town of Red Bank, New Jersey. By 16 years old, he increasingly played jazz piano at parties, resorts and other venues. In 1924, he went to Harlem, where his performing career expanded; he toured with groups to the major jazz cities of Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City. In 1929 he joined Bennie Moten's band in Kansas City, and played with them until Moten's death in 1935.
In 1935, Basie formed his own jazz orchestra, the Count Basie Orchestra, and in 1936 took them to Chicago for a long engagement and their first recording. He led the group for almost 50 years, creating innovations like the use of two "split" tenor saxophones, emphasizing the rhythm section, riffing with a big band, using arrangers to broaden their sound, and others. Many musicians came to prominence under his direction, including the tenor saxophonists Lester Young and Herschel Evans, the guitarist Freddie Green, trumpeters Buck Clayton and Harry "Sweets" Edison and singers Jimmy Rushing and Joe Williams. Basie's theme songs were "One O'Clock Jump", developed in 1935 in the early days of his band, and later "April in Paris".