By the beginning of 1936 the Count Basie-Buster Smith Barons of Rhythm were tearing it up nightly at the Reno Club and starting to get attention beyond the African American community.
One journalist in particular, Dave Dexter, covered jazz for the Kansas City Journal-Post. He was a big jazz fan who immersed himself in the nightlife along 12th st. and in the 18th and Vine district. He adored the Basie band but hated the Reno Club. He felt the band deserved better and made it his personal mission break the band on a national level. In addition to the Journal-Post, Dexter also contributed to Down Beat Magazine and began reporting on jazz happenings in Kansas City. He also tipped off fellow Down Beat contributer John Hammond to the Basie broadcasts from the Reno Club.
Hammond was a wealthy aristocrat that loved jazz and blues and detested racial segregation and the mistreatment of African American artists.
He also had a great ear for talent discovering the likes of Billie Holiday and Charlie Christian. Later he discovered Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughan among many others. He was also heavily involved in the integration of the Benny Goodman band with Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton.
While traveling cross country with Goodman he took Dexter’s advice and tuned into the Basie Reno Club broadcast on W9XBY. At the time he was sitting in his car in the parking lot of the Congress Hotel in Chicago.
Needless to say he was blown away by what he heard and headed to Kansas City as quickly as possible.
Once there he and Dexter made the rounds and Hammond was impressed with much that he heard. In addition to Basie he was also impressed by Joe Turner and Pete Johnson at the Sunset Club.
Once back in New York he convinced Willard Alexander to add Basie to his roster of artists and send them on a national tour. Before leaving Kansas City, Basie enlarged the group to a big band. Unfortunately Buster Smith didn’t trust Hammond and decided not to go. Basie also lost Hot Lips Page to Joe Glaser who promised he would be the next Louis Armstrong.
While Basie was preparing to leave K.C., Dave Kapp of Decca Records snuck into town and signed him and the band to an exclusive recording contract. It was a horrible deal for Basie but he thought Kapp was associated with Hammond and signed anyway. When Hammond found out he was furious. He would have gotten Basie a much better deal and he wanted to be the one to introduce his new discovery to the jazz world.
They left Kansas City in November of 1936 and headed to Chicago for an engagement at the Grand Terrace Ballroom. Not to be out done by Decca, John Hammond organized a small group out of the Basie band to record for Vocalion under the pseudonym Jones-Smith Inc. It was the world’s introduction to the brilliance of Lester Young along with the unparalleled swing of the rhythm team of Basie, Walter Page and Jo Jones.
The Kansas City sound wasn’t a secret any longer.