1928 >> In July 1928, Basie joined Walter Page's Blue Devils, then one of the best if not the best band playing the mid west. Other members of the Blue Devils at that time were Oran "Hot Lips" Page and Jimmy Rushing, both of whom would figure prominently in Basie's bands later.
Basie toured with the Blue Devils into early 1929. During this time, his ideas of orchestral jazz started to take shape. A hallmark of Basie's career was established at this early time already: his ability to strike up personal and professional relationships that would last for decades, across many bands and solo careers.
1929 >> Early in 1929, Basie left the Blue Devils without notice, to play with two lesser known bands in the Kansas City area. He only left Jimmy Rushing a note, explaining: "Once a Blue Devil, always a Blue Devil."
Back to Kansas City
But not long after that, Kansas City began calling me again. I liked Oklahoma City fine, but not much was happening with the Blue Devils. We were still laying off, and I started thinking about getting back to the Eblon Theatre and that organ and all of those joints around Kansas City. There was so much happening all the time in Kansas City. There was a lot of action that I hadn't had time to get into yet.
So I saved enough money for train fare... and then early one morning I got up and took that hat, which I hadn't paid anything on, and a little note by Jimmy Rushing's father's restaurant and left it there. Then I went on down to the station and took the first train to Kansas City.
I hadn't talked to anybody about what I was going to do. I just sort of eased on out of town. I figured that was the best way, because I really hated to leave those guys, and I know they would have tried every tack I could think of to talk me out of it again.
("Good Morning Blues," p. 23)
Basie resumed his job at the Eblon Theater, but now his goal was to join Bennie Moten's highly esteemed band. Basie wouldn't be withheld by the band already having a piano player in Moten himself and schemed his way into Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra by becoming friendly with their arranger, Eddie Durham. He mentioned some ideas for charts and got Durham to take him and his charts to the next rehearsal. Thereupon, Moten hired Basie as staff arranger and soon Basie sat in for Moten at the piano as well. Later he took over all piano duties and would continue to play like that for almost four years.
1930 >> Several other members of the Blue Devils joined Moten around this time. Jimmy Rushing came in late 1929 or early 1930 and Hot Lips Page a few months later. Trombonist Dan Minor, another ex-Blue Devil, followed the next year. That same year Walter Page switched from tuba to string bass and the band's rhythm changed from the old-style two-beat to a more even 4/4.
The Moten repertoire expanded under the guidance of Basie and Durham. Their arrangement of "You're Driving Me Crazy," retitled "Moten Swing," became the unofficial anthem of Kansas City styled jazz.
1932 >> The band made a series of recordings for Victor, culminating in the December 13, 1932 session, which may mark the highlight of Moten's career. Featuring musicians such as Oran "Hot Lips" Page, Eddie Durham, Ben Webster, Walter Page, Jimmy Rushing, and - of course - Count Basie on piano, tunes recorded that day include "Toby," "The Blue Room,” "Lafayette," "Prince of Wails," and an outstanding take of "Moten Swing."
Some weeks later, the band breaks up and many of the men return to their families on Christmas.
1933 >> In summer 1933, the Moten orchestra reunited to play at the former Eblon Theater in Kansas City, now called the Cherry Blossom Club. As business was slow, Moten proposed to join the accomplished K.C. bandleader George E. Lee, whose band had preceded them at the Cherry Blossom Club. Most of the men wanted to stay, though.
The Moten band was a "commonwealth band," with each member having a say in the band's operations. Moten was ousted and Basie - although not one of the instigators - was chosen as its new leader. The ten piece group, full of ex-Blue Devils, including Hot Lips Page, Minor, Buster Smith, Walter Page, and Jo Jones was now billed as Count Basie and His Cherry Blossom Orchestra. Herschel Evans, who came to Kansas early in 1933, played tenor.
The Cherry Blossom band played the Reno consistently for a year and a half. As the musicians already had been working together in various bands, the band was well trained Some Durham-Basie charts were still around from the Moten band, but most of the music was done on the spot, as "head" arrangements. One of the most famous arrangements to be developed like this is "One O'Clock Jump".
One O'clock Jump
One night we were on the air and we had about ten more minutes to go, and the announcer asked what we were going to do, and I said I didn't know. We were talking off the mike because there wasn't but one microphone in there anyway in those days, and that was the one the announcer was on. I said, "I'm just going to start playing," and he said, "What is this?" and I saw how many minutes to one o'clock it was getting to be, so I said, "Call it the 'One O'clock Jump.'" And we hit it with the rhythm section and went into the riffs, and the riffs just stuck.
The Count (II)
By now, the Nickname of “The Count” had been set. Many stories circulate about the origin of Basie's nickname. Basie Recalls: “One night, while we were broadcasting (it was W9XBY, an experimental broadcast station), the announcer called me to the microphone for those usual few words of introduction. He commented that Bill Basie was a rather ordinary name, and further that that werea couple of well-known bandleaders named earl Hines and Duke Ellington. Then he said ‘bill, I think I will call you Count Basie from now on. Is that alright with you?’ I thought he was kidding, shrugged my shoulders and said ‘okay.’"
On another occasion, Basie mentioned the nickname originated out of his penchant for slipping off with Eddie Durham during arranging sessions for the Moten band. Durham remembered: "When Bennie used to come looking for Basie and Basie wasn't there, he'd say, 'Aw, that guy ain't no 'count.'
Basie and I were supposed to be making up new arrangements, but as soon as Basie would hit on something and get me started on the scoring, he would slip on off somewhere, looking for something to drink and some fun. He never got tired of partying. So Bennie would come in and say, 'Where is that no 'count rascal?'" ("Good Morning Blues," p. 147)
1934 >> Lester Young, who heard the Cherry Blossom band on the air, sends Basie a telegram stating that he doesn't think much of his current tenor player - Basie invites Young to join.
When the Cherry Blossom band went on tour in early 1934, Evans, reluctant to travel, Lester Young took his place. At twenty four, Young was already a highly original musician. He started on drums, playing in the band of his father, who also taught him to play trumpet and violin. At age thirteen he started on alto sax: "Just picked the motherfucker up and started playing it," he would later recall. At age nineteen, he switched to tenor. He arrived in Kansas City late in 1933, after touring with various bands, among them the Blue Devils (briefly in 1930 and later in 1932-33). In 1933 he was hired by Fletcher Henderson to replace Coleman Hawkins, who had left to tour Europe. Most of Henderson's band though weren't ready to accept the new sound of Young, altogether different from Hawkins, and so Young was dropped from the band.
The Cherry Blossom band broke up later in 1934.
1935 >> "Hot Lips" Page, Jimmy Rushing, and eventually Basie too, rejoined Moten's new band, staying until Moten’s untimely death on April 2, on the operation table, after a botched tonsillectomy. The band was continued shortly by his brother, Buster Moten, but Basie left soon thereafter. The Moten era was over.
Together with Buster Smith, Basie organised a new group of nine musicians, consisting of members of the Blue Devils and the Moten band, among them Walter Page, Jo Jones and later also Lester Young. Jimmy Rushing became the band's singer.
That band, starring three trumpets, three reeds, and three rhythm, was called Three, Three, and Three.
The band was named the Barons of Rhythm and soon started playing the Reno Club in Kansas City. This wasn't exactly a high-class joint. A small club serving liquor and food, it had a small band playing for dancing, girls available to dance with, and a whorehouse upstairs.
During the time at the Reno, Walter Page started to replace the tuba more and more with the string bass.
Basie would lead his own orchestra from then until his death, almost fifty years later, with the exception of a brief period in the early fifties.