Smorgasbord Music Column with William Price King – William J. “Count” Basie (1904-1984)

Welcome to the first of the Music Column for 2020 and this week William Price King shares the life and music of the legendary Count Basie.

The title of one of his band’s most famous tunes — “The Kid from Red Bank” – is an obvious tip-off, but many jazz historians assume that William J. “Count” Basie, Jr. was a native of Kansas City, Missouri. And while that’s where Basie and his band rose to national fame, the jazz great’s origins can be traced to a house located just blocks away from the historic theater that today bears his name.

William Basie was born at 229 Mechanic Street on August 21, 1904. His father, Harvey Lee Basie, was a coachman and caretaker; his mother, Lillian Childs Basie, was a laundress, taking in washing and ironing. A brother, James, died when William was a young boy. The family always owned a piano, and Lilly Ann paid twenty-five cents per lesson to teach William to play.

In addition to helping his parents, William also did chores at Red Bank’s now-defunct Palace Theater. A projectionist taught him to rewind the reels, switch between projectors, and operate the spotlight for the vaudeville shows. On the afternoon the Palace’s house pianist failed to show for work, Basie offered to fill in – but was denied. Nonetheless persistent, the young Basie waited for the film to start, crept into the orchestra pit, and accompanied the film anyway. He was invited back to perform that evening.

Though Basie’s initial intentions were to become a drummer, his ambitions in that direction were forever erased after hearing drummer Sonny Greer from Long Branch. Greer, who later rose to fame as the drummer for the Duke Ellington Orchestra, was so obviously superior to Basie that he made a hasty retreat to the piano. The men became friends and formed a duo.

Decades later, the two would be among fifty-seven musicians photographed on the stoop of a Harlem, brownstone by Art Kane, in a shot to accompany an Esquire magazine article on the “Golden Age of Jazz.” The photograph would later become as famous as the subjects it depicted, as inspiration for the documentary A Great Day in Harlem.

Read the rest of Count Basie’s biography on his official website: The Basie. Org

Now time for some of the outstanding music from this talented musician

“Lil Darlin’” is from the album “The Atomic Mr. Basie “, also known as E=MC2, and was recorded in 1958 by Count Basie and his orchestra. Most of the arrangements on the album were done by Neal Hefti. The album gets off to a great start with an explosively energetic trumpet section and piano solo in ‘The Kid From Red Bank’ and continues with an almost telepathic gift of synchronized riffing from the band behind a star soloist improvising in gaps left in Hefti’s arrangements.

This album is included in the book ‘1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die’ and was the 6th most critically acclaimed album of 1958, the 25rd most acclaimed of the 1950s, and the 837th most acclaimed of all time, based on an aggregation of hundreds of critics’ lists from around the world. The album won ‘Best Jazz Performance, Group and Best Performance by a Dance Band’ awards at the 1st Annual Grammy Awards in 1959.

“One O’Clock Jump”, a 12 bar blues instrumental that builds in rhythmic intensity and foregrounds a succession of soloists over riff backings, was written by Basie in 1937 and became his theme song, which he used to close each concert for almost a half of a century. This song is typical of Basie’s early ‘riff’ style where the instrumentation was based on ‘head arrangements.’

* The musicians would take turns improvising over the top of the entire sound. “One O’Clock Jump” was originally titled ‘Blue Ball’ but a radio announcer feared that the title was too risqué. It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1979 and later listed in the prestigious ‘Songs of the Century’ by the Recording Industry Association of America, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Scholastic Inc. that aims to ‘promote a better understanding of America’s musical and cultural heritage’ in American schools.

* Head arrangements – Musical arrangements that were worked out by the players themselves, memorized (in the player’s head), and never written down.

“Jumpin’ at the Woodside” was recorded in 1938 on Decca Records and was often considered the epitome of swing. It had a super swinging rhythm section and shout choruses from the horn section. It featured solos from Earle Warren on alto sax, Buck Clayton on trumpet, Lester Young on tenor sax, and Herschel Evans on clarinet. It peaked at #11 on Billboard and stayed on the charts for four weeks.

The song was named after the Woodside hotel where the band was based and where they rehearsed when in New York City. The Woodside hotel distinguished itself by becoming a popular place for jazz musicians and Negro league baseball teams to stay while in New York during segregation. “ Jumpin’ at the Woodside” was used in the Broadway show ‘Hellzapoppin’ in 1941 as well as other shows from that era.

“Who Me?” is from the 1959 album “Chairman of the Board”. This swinging Basie piece has all the ingredients that make his music and his orchestra exceptional – expressiveness, dynamics, phrasing, and most importantly nuance. The blues have always been the foundation of Basie’s music and most of the tracks from this album exploit the variety of the 12-bar blues form and the band’s Kansas City roots. Basie defines, once again, what jazz is with his performance and his blend of showmanship and musicianship, spotlighted so well in the video “Who Me?” and the album as a whole.

Buy the music of Count Basie: Amazon US

William Price King is an American jazz singer, crooner, and composer.

His interest in music began at an early age when he studied piano and clarinet in high school. At Morehouse College in Atlanta where he grew up, he sang in the Glee Club and studied classical music. After graduation he went off to the Yale School of Music where he earned a Masters degree. From there he journeyed to New York where he created a jazz trio ‘Au Naturel’ which performed in some of the hottest venues in Manhattan including gigs on Broadway and the famous ‘Rainbow Room.’ These gigs opened doors for performances in Montreal and a European tour.

While touring Europe he met a lovely French lady, Jeanne Maïstre, who, a year later became his wife. King left the group ‘Au Naturel’ and settled in the south of France where he started a new life on the French Riviera, opening his own music school – the “Price King Ecole Internationale de Chant.” He has had the pleasure over the years of seeing many of his students excel as singers on a professional level, and some going on to become national celebrities. He continues to coach young singers today, in his spare time.

His debut jazz album was entitled “Home,” and was a collection of contemporary compositions he composed, with lyrics written by his wife Jeanne King. His second album was a Duo (Voice and Guitar) with Eric Sempé on the guitar. This album included original songs as well as well known standards from contemporary jazz and pop artists. The “King-Sempé” duo toured France and thrilled audiences for more than three years before going their separate ways. King has formed a new duo with French/Greek guitarist Manolis, and is now exploring new ideas, in a smooth jazz/soul/folk direction.

In addition to singing and composing, King has been collaborating with author Sally Cronin over the past few years on her blog “Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life,” with the series “A Man And His Music – Jazz, Contemporary, Classical, and Legends” and now, the “William Price King Music Column.” Working with author Sally Cronin has been an exhilarating experience in many ways and has brought a new dimension to King’s creative life. King has also created a micro blog, “Improvisation,” which features and introduces mostly jazz artists from across the jazz spectrum who have made considerable contributions in the world of jazz; and also artwork from painters who have made their mark in the world of art. This micro blog can be found on Tumblr.

His vocal mentors are two of the greatest giants in jazz, Nat King Cole and Mel Tormé. King has a distinctive wide-ranging voice which displays a remarkable technical facility and emotional depth.

William Price King on Tumblr – IMPROVISATION

Buy William’s music ITunes

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You can find all of the Music Column series in this directory:

My thanks to William for sharing this wonderful music and as always we look forward to your feedback…



25 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Music Column with William Price King – William J. “Count” Basie (1904-1984)

  1. A true legend the Count. I love learning about the earlier years with these legends. It seems back in the day some of the most talented heading for fame endured a lot of hardship before they deservedly made it. Thanks William and Sal ❤ 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. When I was a little girl (stop me if I have already told you this) my father introduced me to this amazing man! He said, “Count, this is my daughter, Annette. Annette, this is The Count!” He smiled, reached down to me, took my hand and said, “Well, how are you, little lady?” I wish I had never washed that hand…


    • Oh, how lucky you were, Annette! I never got to meet the Count, nor did I ever get to hear him live. Happily we had his records in our house. His music lives on and will continue to do so. Thanks for commenting. All the best to you.


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  3. What a talent…These tunes have been played so much in this house ..Really lovely to read about the Counts early years it makes you appreciate the music so much more…Love this post…my study is rocking…Thank you, Will and Sally you both rock!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Listening to this music brought back so many good memories of my dad. I enjoyed learning a little about how Count Basie got his start–and I learned a new term: “head arrangement”!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blog Magazine Weekly Round Up – 5th – 11th January 2020 – Count Basie, Phosphorus, Reviews, New Books, Bloggers and Funnies. | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

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