Black US jazz pianist, organist, and bandleader. He led one of the best-known big bands during the swing era, and continued to do so for many years thereafter.
Born in Red Bank, New Jersey, Basie began his musical career by playing the piano in Harlem dance halls. As a youngster he admired the organ playing of Fats Waller in a silent cinema in Harlem and arranged to take piano lessons from him. Subsequently he toured theatres and accompanied vaudeville acts; in 1928–29 he played with Walter Page's Blue Devils and then with Bennie Moten (1894–1935), whose band was regarded as the best in the midwest. Basie broadcast from Kansas City in 1936 with a group called the Barons of Rhythm, acquiring the name ‘Count’ from a radio announcer. Producer John Hammond heard the band and organized a tour for them. The augmented band had several great soloists and an extremely competent rhythm section; success followed an engagement at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem in early 1938. Basie kept his band together until well into the 1960s, except for a period between 1950 and 1952 when he led an octet. He toured the world with changing personnel, appearing and recording with singers Tony Bennett (1926– ), Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra.
He was as modest as Duke Ellington about his own stride style of piano playing, reducing it as a leader to a percussive cueing of the band from the keyboard. However, his real worth as a jazz pianist was always evident in his playing with small groups.