1924 >> After moving to New York in the summer of 1924, Basie meets fellow pianists James P. Johnson, Lucky Roberts, Willie "The Lion" Smith, and Fats Waller. Their stride style remained a strong component in Basie’s music throughout his career, despite his more minimalist aesthetic.
Basie recalls: "I saw Fats Waller. I dropped into the old Lincoln theatre in Harlem and heard a young fellow beating it out on the organ. From that time on, I was a daily customer. Hanging onto his every note, sitting behind him all the time, fascinated by the ease with which his hands pounded the keys and manipulated the pedals. He got used to seeing me. As though I was part of the show. One day he asked me whether I played the organ. 'no', I said, 'but I'd give my right arm to learn.' The next day he invited me to sit in the pit and start working the pedals. I sat on the floor, watching his feet, and used my hands to imitate them. Then I sat beside him and he taught me."
Basie gained valuable experience as house pianist in “Leroy’s,” the first Harlem cabaret open to black patrons.
A nineteen year old, Basie started playing on the Columbia Wheel and TOBA vaudeville circuits. He worked as a solo pianist, accompanist, and musical director for blues singers, dancers, and comedians. One of his first jobs was with an act called Kattie Crippin and Her Kids, later with another act called Hippity Hope. Early in his career, he also played with June Clark's band and accompanied singers Clara Smith and Maggie Jones. Soon, he joined a road show led by Gonzel White, where he played in a four-piece band and even acted the part of a villain in one of the comedy skits. While on tour with White, he first heard Walter Page's Blue Devils, a band he would join soon.
The Count (I)
Just when William "Bill" Basie threw off his former nickname "Nutty" to become "The Count" is not clear. But by 1927, his business card told fellow musicians: "Beware, The Count Is Here".
One morning, Basie would later recount in his autobiography "Good Morning Blues," he was woken up in a Tulsa, Oklahoma hotel room by what he thought was a record playing. Checking out the source of the music, he found out it was actually a band: Walter Page and His Blue Devils.
The Blue Devils
Basie recounts: "Everybody seemed to be having so much fun just being up there and playing together, and they looked good and sounded good to boot. There was such a team spirit among those guys, and it came out in the music... hearing them that day was probably the most important turning point in my musical career, so far as my notions about what kind of music I really wanted to try to play were concerned." (from "Good Morning Blues")
The next time Basie met the Blue Devils, their pianist was sick, and Basie sat in for a couple of nights. Walter Page, the leader of the band, was sufficiently impressed to give the young pianist his address.
Soon thereafter, Gonzelle White's troupe broke up. Basie got ill with a spinal meningitis, and although he recovered within a few weeks, he was broke and stranded in Kansas City. In those years, there were enough jobs for a musician in Kansas City, though, and Basie soon found himself playing organ in a silent movie house, the Eblon Theater.