Benny Goodman, the clarinet player who looked like a banker but whose sound swooped and soared like a bird, led a band that sparked a worldwide craze in the 30s. He was hailed as "the King of Swing", but he wasn't the only one. Goodman was a white star who brought a white audience with him and expanded the jazz fanbase. But as his famous orchestra made the cross-country trip from Chicago to Los Angeles in 1935, a bluesier, less refined, but just as thrilling swing phenomenon was emerging in the midwest, in Kansas City.
Kansas City had deep blues roots, and black jazz musicians in that town tended to keep the tradition alive in their sound. However, it was tempered with the growing urbanity characteristic of early-30s jazz. Bill Basie, a young silent movie and vaudeville pianist from Red Bank, New Jersey, had by 1928 joined bassist Walter Page's Blue Devils, which featured an emerging blues legend, Jimmy Rushing, on vocals. The following year, Basie moved to Kansas bandleader Bennie Moten's elegantly punchy, ragtime and boogie-influenced band. But Moten died unexpectedly during a tonsillectomy in 1935, and Basie took over an already superb ensemble that included blossoming tenor saxophone genius, Lester Young.
A swing sound that would change jazz was about to be born. The conversational, amiably riffing, call-and-response approach of Basie's new group was irresistably infectious (they called it Count Basie and His Barons of Rhythm at first, but its first recordings in 1936 were under the name of "Jones-Smith Incorporated" for contractual reasons). Their pioneering sound can still be heard in jazz orchestras all over the world. Basie often practised with just his innovative rhythm section, an approach that fuelled a swing drive that stunned audiences; Page's walking bassline, so different from the huffing, tuba-like sounds of earlier bassists, being a jazz revolution in itself, while Jo Jones made a light but urgent cymbal beat as important as the deeper rumble of the drums.
At first, the band built a following through radio broadcasts from Kansas City's Reno Club, then moved via Chicago to New York's Famous Door, where they made their global reputation. Basie's soloists were of the highest class, but none more so than the poetic, unquenchably eloquent Young. Here's Young and the Basie group's sensational emergence on to the world stage in November 1936, with Oh, Lady Be Good.