Basie Center, Red Bank to celebrate William James “Count” Basie’s birthday
Concerts, dedications – even birthday cake – all set to celebrate the jazz legend’s birth August 21
(RED BANK | AUGUST 9, 2023) The “Kid From Red Bank” – global jazz legend and hometown hero William “Count” Basie – will celebrated throughout Red Bank in events surrounding what would have been his 119th birthday on August 21.
On Sunday, August 20, Red Bank’s Jazz Arts Project will celebrate Count Basie as part of the borough’s summer-long Westside Jazz Concerts series at Johnny Jazz Park on Shrewsbury Avenue. The Charnee Wade Quintet, Timothy Ogunbiyi Quartet, Julius Tolentino & The Next Wave and the Eddie Allen Aggregation Big Band will perform, with festivities beginning at 1PM. This is a free event, open to all-ages.
On Monday August 21st, the Count Basie Center for the Arts will formally dedicate a statue of The Count, which was recently unveiled at the organization’s summer gala. Master sculptor Brian Hanlon will lead the dedication, along with remarks from Wayne Winborne, Executive Director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University-Newark, and performances of Basie jazz pieces by pianist Phil Bingham. Members of the public interested in attending the event, to be held outdoors from 4:30-6PM at the Basie Center’s William and Catherine Basie Arts Plaza, must RSVP by August 11 at [email protected]. Refreshments will be served, including a commemorative birthday cake to conclude the ceremony.
WILLIAM “COUNT” BASIE
William Basie was born at 229 Mechanic Street in Red Bank 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. 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.
Over a sixty-plus year career, William “Count” Basie helped to establish jazz as a serious art form played not just in clubs but in theaters and concert halls across the world. He established swing as one of jazz’s predominant styles and solidified the link between jazz and the blues, performing for everyone from Queen Elizabeth II to John F. Kennedy during his storied career. He earned the admiration of fellow iconic musicians such as Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington and Billie Holliday, and earned a brand of fame so influential that it seemingly defied the lines of segregation that existed for much of his career.
In 1984, what was then known as the Monmouth Arts Center was renamed in Basie’s honor. Today, the Count Basie Center for the Arts is recognized worldwide as a nonprofit performing arts center and an innovator in the arts and performing arts education and preservation.
For more information on William “Count” Basie, visit https://thebasie.org/countbasiebio