Bennie Moten

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Not to be confused with Benny Moten.
Bennie Moten
Benny+moten.jpg
Background information
Born ( 1894 -11-13)November 13, 1894
Origin Kansas City, Missouri, USA
Died April 2, 1935 ( 1935 -04-02) (aged 40)
Genres Jazz
Occupations Piano, Bandleader
Instruments Piano
Associated acts Count Basie, Walter Page

Bennie Moten (November 13, 1894 – April 2, 1935) was a noted American jazz pianist and band leader born in Kansas City, Missouri.

He led the Kansas City Orchestra, the most important of the regional, blues-based orchestras active in the Midwest in the 1920s, and helped to develop the riffing style that would come to define many of the 1930s Big Bands.

His first recordings were made (for OKeh Records) in 1923, and were rather typical interpretations of the New Orleans style of King Oliver and others. They also showed the influence of the Ragtime that was still popular in the area, as well as the stomping beat that the band was famous for. These OKeh sides (recorded 1923-1925) are some of the more valuable acoustic jazz 78's of the era and continue to be treasured records in many serious jazz collections.

They signed with Victor Records in 1926, and were influenced by the more sophisticated style of Fletcher Henderson, but more often than not featured a hard stomp beat that was extremely popular in Kansas City. Moten remained one of Victor's most popular orchestras through 1930. The song Kansas City Shuffle was recorded during this time. (The band recorded prolifically and many of their records were issued in Victor's regular series, therefore not specifically marketed to the Black community.)

By 1928 Moten's piano was showing some Boogie Woogie influences, but the real revolution came in 1929 when he recruited Count Basie, Walter Page and Oran 'Hot Lips' Page. Walter Page's walking bass lines gave the music an entirely new feel compared to the 2/4 tuba of his predecessor Vernon Page, coloured by Basie's understated, syncopated piano fills. Another boon to the band was adding Jimmy Rushing as their primary vocalist.

Their final session (10 recordings made at Victor's Camden, NJ studios on December 13, 1932, during a time when the band was suffering significant financial hardship) showed the early stages of what became known as the "Basie sound"; four years before Basie would record under his own name. By this time Ben Webster and Jimmy Rushing had joined Moten's band, but Moten himself does not play on these sessions. These sides (mostly arranged by Eddie Durham) include a number of tunes that later became swing classics:

  • "Toby"
  • "Moten Swing"
  • "The Blue Room"
  • "Imagination" (vocals: Sterling Russell Trio)
  • "New Orleans" (vocal: Jimmy Rushing)
  • "The Only Girl I Ever Loved" (vocals: Sterling Russell Trio)
  • "Milenberg Joys"
  • "Lafayette"
  • "Prince of Wails" (often mistitled as "Prince of Wales")
  • "Two Times" (recorded with six musicians and with vocalist Josephine Garrison)

After Moten's death in 1935 after an unsuccessful tonsillectomy, Basie took many of the leading musicians from the band to form his own orchestra.

Moten's popular 1928 recording of "South" (V-38021) stayed in Victor's catalog over the years (reissued as 24893 in 1935 as Victor phased out any remaining V-38000 series that were still in the catalog) and became a big jukebox hit in the late 1940s (by then, reissued as 44-0004). It remained in print (as a vinyl 45) until RCA stopping making vinyl records!

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