His Early life
William James “Count” Basie was born on August 21,1904 in Red Bank, New Jersey to Harvey Lee Basie, and Lillian Ann Childs who lived on Mechanic Street. He had a brother, LeRoy Basie. His father worked as coachman for a wealthy family. After automobiles replaced horses, his father became a groundskeeper and handyman for several families in the area. His mother took in laundry, and was Basie’s first piano teacher when he was a child. He started out to be a drummer. But the obvious talents of another young Red Bank drummer, Sonny Greer, who was Duke Ellington’s drummer from 1919 to 1951, discouraged young Basie and he switched to piano. While he was in his late teens, he gravitated to Harlem, where he encountered Fats Waller who he was taught informally.  The Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank was named in his honor.
Basie toured the Theater Owners Bookers Association (T.O.B.A.) vaudeville circuit, starting in 1924, as a soloist and accompanist to blues singers. His touring took him to Kansas City, Missouri, where he met many jazz musicians in the area. In 1928 he joined Walter Page’s Blue Devils, and the following year became the pianist with the Bennie Moten band based in Kansas City. It was at this time that he began to be known as “Count” Basie (see Jazz royalty).
He started his own band in 1934, but eventually returned to Moten’s band. After Moten died in 1935, the band unsuccessfully attempted to stay together. Basie formed a new band, which included many Moten alumni.
New York City, and later years
Basie and band, with vocalist Ethel Waters, from the film Stage Door Canteen (1943)
At the end of 1936 he moved his band from Kansas City. They honed their repertoire at a long engagement at a Chicago club. In that city in October 1936 members of the band participated in a recording session which producer John Hammond later described as “the only perfect, completely perfect recording session I’ve ever had anything to do with”. By the end of 1936 they began playing in New York City where the Count Basie Orchestra remained until 1950.
Basie’s music was characterized by his trademark “jumping” beat and the contrapuntal accents of his own piano. Basie also showcased some of the best blues singers of the era: Billie Holiday, Jimmy Rushing, Big Joe Turner, Helen Humes, and Joe Williams. More importantly, Count Basie was a highly successful band-leader who was able to hold onto some of the greatest jazz musicians of the 1930s and early 1940s: Buck Clayton, Herschel Evans, Lester Young, and the band’s brilliant rhythm section, Walter Page, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones. He was also able to hire great arrangers that knew how to use the band’s abilities, like Eddie Durham and Jimmy Mundy.
The big band era appeared to be at an end, but Basie reformed his as a 16-piece orchestra in 1952 and led it until his death. Basie remained faithful to the Kansas City Jazz style and helped keep jazz alive with his distinctive piano playing.
Count Basie Theatre, Red Bank, New Jersey
By the mid 1950s, Basie Band had become one of the preeminent backing big bands for the finest jazz vocalists of the time. Joe Williams was spectacularly featured on the 1957 album One o’Clock Jump, and 1956’s Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings. In 1942 Basie moved to Queens New York with Catherine Morgan after being married for a few years. He appeared as himself (along with his band) in the Jerry Lewis film Cinderfella (1960) and in the Mel Brooks movie Blazing Saddles (1974).
Ella Fitzgerald is sometimes referred to as the quintessential swing singer, and her meetings with the Count Basie Orchestra are highly regarded by critics. Fitzgerald’s 1963 album Ella and Basie! is remembered as one of Fitzgerald’s greatest recordings. With the ‘New Testament’ Basie band in full swing, and arrangements written by a youthful Quincy Jones, this album proved a swinging respite from the ‘Songbook’ recordings and constant touring that Fitzgerald was engaged in during this period. She toured with the Basie Orchestra in the mid-1970s and Fitzgerald and a much tamer Basie band also met on the 1979 albums Digital III at Montreux, A Classy Pair, and A Perfect Match.
Frank Sinatra had an equally fruitful relationship with Basie, 1963’s Sinatra-Basie and 1964’s It Might As Well Be Swing (the latter arranged by Quincy Jones) are two of the highest points at the peak of Sinatra’s artistry. Jones provided the punchy arrangements for the Basie band on Sinatra’s biggest selling album, the live Sinatra at the Sands.
Count Basie died of pancreatic cancer in Hollywood, Florida on April 26, 1984 at the age of seventy-nine.
One O’Clock Jump and Jumpin’ at the Woodside were among Count Basie’s more popular numbers. Basie was also known for his band’s version’s of April in Paris and Lil’ Darlin.
Jerry Lewis used Blues in Hoss’ Flat, from Basie’s Chairman of the Board album, as the basis for his own “Chairman of the Board” routine in the movie The Errand Boy, in which Lewis pantomimed the movements of a corporate executive holding a board meeting. (In the early 1980s, Lewis revived the routine during the live broadcast of one of his Muscular Dystrophy Association telethons.) Blues in Hoss’ Flat, composed by Basie band member Frank Foster, was also the longtime theme song of San Francisco and New York radio DJ Al “Jazzbeaux” Collins.
Basie and his band made a cameo appearance in Mel Brooks‘ 1974 comedy film Blazing Saddles.
He received one of the Kennedy Center Honors in 1981.
Basie was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002.
Basie is one of the producers of the “world’s greatest music” that Brenda Fricker’s “Pigeon Lady” character claims to have heard in Carnegie Hall in 1992’s Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
Count Basie, being one of the greatest jazz musicians in musical history, will be inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2007.
Basie was also a world-renowned member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Incorporated.