Sandy Brown Jazz

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On A Night Like This, The Story Is Told ...

Count Basie -
By The Time We Reached Kansas City ....

 

Count Basie looks back at his move to Kansas City. Born in 1904, he was touring with vaudeville shows before he was 20 years old.

 

Count Basie

 

 

Eblon movie theatre

 

'I'd travelled west from New York with a touring vaudeville show. I was just a kinda honky-tonk piano player with the show and we had more than our share of troubles. We didn't have any 'names' in the cast and we didn't do much business. So, about the time we reached Kansas City, the unit was in pretty bad shape and then came the inevitable folding. When we folded, I was broke and didn't have any way to get out of town.

I knew I couldn't do any good by sitting around feeling sorry for myself or wishing I'd never left my home in Red Bank, New Jersey.. I started making the rounds to see if there might be a spot in town for a piano player, and surprisingly fast found that spot playing the accompaniment to silent films at a local movie theatre called the Eblon. I must say I got a lot of good experience in that job, because I was playing for all sorts of pictures, anything from a Western melodrama to a crime thriller or one of those passion plays.

 

Eblon Movie Theatre on 18th and Vine - the Kansas City Jazz District.

 

 

 

Well, I held that job at the Eblon for the better part of a year. Then, in 1928, I got a job with a band known as the 'Blue Devils'. The leader of this band was a guy named Walter Page, who played a mighty wicked string bass, and still does. Yes, he's the same Walter Page who later made with the rhythm in my band.

 

Listen to Count Basie with the Blue Devils playing There's A Squabblin' in 1929.

 

 

 

The Blue Devils did quite a bit of travelling between Kansas City and Oklahoma City, and in 1929 we picked up a blues singer in Oklahoma City. That was Jimmy Rushing, who for my money has never had an equal when it comes to the blues.

Back in the early 'thirties there was a band in Kansas City that more or less ruled the local jazz scene. It was that of the late Bennie Moten. Few people outside Kansas City ever knew much about this band for the reason that way back then there were no such means of nation-wide exploitation as radio, records, and juke-boxes and local or territorial bands had to be seen to be heard. Well, the Blue Devils broke up and several of us, including Page and Rushing, joined Bennie. I played 'third piano' in that band. Bennie, of course, was the big man at the keys, and his brother Bus played piano-accordion.....

 

 

Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra playing Band Box Shuffle in 1929.

 

 

 

 

Bennie Moten

 

 

 

 

Bennie Moten

 

.....I've heard a lot of conflicting stories as to how I came to go out as band leader in my own right. First, I will say that I did not take over the Bennie Moten band when Bennie died. In 1935 the band was booked for the Rainbow Ballroom in Denver, one of the leading dance spots in the west. Bennie, however, stayed in Kansas City for a tonsillectomy. In the meantime the band went on to open in Denver. Just as we were getting under way on opening night, Bus Moten received a telephone call from Kansas City that Bennie had died on the operating table ..... without a leader, the band just didn't seem to mean much any more. Bus Moten took over for the next six months or so and then we broke up.'

 

From Hear Me Talkin' To Ya edited by Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff.

 

 

 

 

Listen to Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra playing Moten Swing in December 1932, two and a bit years before Bennie died.
In the picture Count Basie is second on the left.

 

 

 

 

 

Count Basie and Walter Page

Freddie Green, Jo Jones, Walter Page and Count Basie in 1938

 

 

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Al Capone and Fats Waller
Stan Kenton - Play It Loud
Censoring Ellington
Sidney Bechet Coming Of Age

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