February 14, 2019- Today's Kansas City Jazz Topic: Moten is out and Basie is in
By 1932 the Kansas City scene was in full swing so Bennie Moten’s Orchestra stayed close to home. By that time Moten had added several ex-Oklahoma City Blue Devils to the band and it was at it’s musical peak. During the summer of 1933 the band opened the new Cherry Blossom club near 18th and Vine but there was trouble in the ranks and Moten was voted out as leader. They voted Bill Basie in and the band carried on.
In 1934 the Cherry Blossom band breaks up, Lester Young joins Fletcher Henderson and the key musicians reconcile with Moten. This included Basie, Buster Smith, Jimmy Rushing, Herschal Evans and Hot Lips Page.
The band continued in dominance of the Kansas City scene until 1935 when they take an engagement in Denver and Moten stayed behind to have a routine tonsellectomy. The Doctor slips and Moten dies during the operation.
Buster Moten tries to keep the band together but by summer most of the key musicians had joined other bands.
That all changed with Basie as he was hired to put together a group to serve as the house band at The Reno Club near downtown Kansas City.
Basie was able to bring together the best of the best. He had his pick of the musicians who had developed over the last five or six years during their regular jobs and at the nightly jam sessions.
It ended up as a 9 piece band set up as 3 reeds, 3 brass and 3 rhythm. Basie and Buster Smith shared the billing. Using his new nickname it became The Count Basie-Buster Smith Barons of Rhythm. The reeds included Buster Smith and Slim Freeman. The brass included Hot Lips Page and the Rhythm included Basie, Walter Page and Jo Jones. Jimmy Rushing was the vocalist.
The band broadcast late at night on station W9XBY and it was during those broadcasts that Basie’s theme song was established.
One night as the band was playing the theme the announcer asked for the title. The actual title was not appropriate to say over the airwaves so they looked at the clock, saw it was one o clock and told the announcer the name was One O’Clock Jump.
The Reno Club was located at 12th and Cherry.It was owned by Papa Sol Epstein who was part of the Pendergast regime.
His connections made sure the police never raided the place. It was a long narrow saloon that featured a cramped, oyster shell bandstand in the back. There was a floor show at 9, 12, 2 and 4. Beer was 5 cents a glass, 10 cents for a schooner with mixed drinks costing a quarter. Prostitutes hung out inside and outside the club and worked out of rooms upstairs in the same building.
Lester Young didn’t last long with Fletcher Henderson. They wanted him to sound like Coleman Hawkins and he wanted no part of it so he left and went to Minneapolis. One night Lester heard the Basie band on the radio and contacted Basie to let him know that Slim Freeman wasn’t making it and that he was available. Basie sent for him right away and Lester came back to Kansas City to join the band.
With the arrival of Lester Young it all came together. The band was a crystallization of all that had come before it. It was the essence of the Kansas City style. The blues-based arrangements, the loose hard swinging rhythm and an amazing array of creative soloists.