Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


PAGE, Walter

(b 9 Feb. 1900, Gellatin MO; d 20 Dec. '57, NYC) Bassist, bandleader; one-quarter of one of the greatest rhythm sections in history, and a very influential musician. He was inspired by hearing the New Orleans bassis Wellman Braud before Braud joined Duke Ellington, and by one of those legendary music teachers who trained so many great musicians, in this case Major N. Clark Smith, at Kansas City's Lincoln High School. Not long after graduating, Page joined Bennie Moten '18, continuting his formal studies in composition and arranging as well as piano and violin at the U. of Kansas in Lawrence; he was proud of his ability to sight-read difficult music. He left Moten '23 to tour with a road show band which folded, took it over and turned it into Walter Page's Blue Devils, based in Oklahoma City '25-31: the legendary outfit recorded only two sides '29 on Vocalion, with Hot Lips Page, Buster Smith and Jimmy Rushing. (Alto saxist Henry 'Buster' Smith was another influential musician, b 24 Aug. 1904, Aldorf TX, d 10 Aug. '91, Dallas; he taught Lester Young, Charlie Parker and Charlie Christian, and led a combo on electric bass in Dallas until '80. Smith's only album as a leader was a delightful one: The Legendary Buster Smith '59 on Atlantic, produced and with notes by Gunther Schuller, was reissued '99 on Koch.)

Hard times and the Great Depression enabled Moten to pick off Page's men one by one; he handed the group over to trumpeter James Simpson, went back to Kansas City and rejoined Moten himself '31-4, freelanced, then joined Count Basie at the Reno Club after Moten's death in '35. With Freddie Green on guitar and Jo Jones on drums, Page helped to reinvent swing and big band jazz. The other members of the rhythm section said that he taught them how to play quietly but with intensity, so as to create 'the meshing of timbres that resulted in one organic, indivisible whole' and brought a chamber music quality which had its effect on the entire band. To continue quoting Loren Schoenberg's notes to the four-CD Basie anthology issued by Sony Legacy in 2003, on the subject of the first four recordings made by a Basie group (the Smith-Jones sides made in Chicago '36; see Basie's entry), '…nothing like them had ever been heard before. The rhythm section communicated in a unified fashion and presented a synergistic beat that is without precedent.' A whole new language for jazz was being invented, and Page was probably the most important innovator. He left Basie '42, played with him again '46-8, with Hot Lips Page '49, then freelanced in NYC. He made small-group recordings with Teddy Wilson and Billie Holiday; the Jo Jones Special album on Vanguard etc; his last record date was a Basie reunion group on Prestige. 'He started that ''strolling'' or ''walking'' bass, going way up and then coming right on down. He did it on four strings, but other bass players couldn't get that high so they started making a five-string bass. That rhythm section would send chills up me every night' (Harry Edison, quoted by Stanley Dance in The World Of Count Basie).