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August 21

William “Count” Basie

Count Basie led the orchestra named for him for 50 years, shepherding other musicians including tenor saxophonist Lester Young and singer Jimmy Rushing.

Photo by Glenn A Baker/Rederns/Getty Images.

1906: The Count of Jazz
William “Count” Basie is born in Red Bank, New Jersey
As a jazz bandleader, pianist, and composer, Count Basie had few peers. He learned to play piano as a youngster, making up music to go with the early silent films of the day.

Working in Harlem and Kansas City, Missouri, Basie absorbed the regional styles of jazz into his own signature “jumping” sound, which referred to his spare piano, pulsating rhythm section, and riffs—a series of notes that are repeated throughout a song—created by his horn players. His band was less formal than others, demonstrating a new lightness and solo originality.

This 1981 Kennedy Center Honoree made jazz history night after night in concert halls and clubs around the world.
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