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In Tune -- by Bill Fuller
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                                           Bennie Moten

The recent inclusion of some of Bennie Moten’s music into the book of Ted Witt’s Night
Owls has nudged me to look a little deeper into the influence of this band leader on the
nascent big band swing era – and it was significant!

Bennie, a pianist, didn’t live a long life but he had a great impact on jazz. He was born in
1894 and died from complications after an unsuccessful tonsillectomy (something ironically
similar to guitarist Eddie Lang) in 1935. Kansas City was his base as well as the name of his
orchestra. As the band toured the Southwest and evolved musically, it achieved its own
identifiable sound using riffs in a way that gradually caught on more and more with other
bands. Many of those riffs dished out a flavor that we would now call boogie-woogie; and
when William (Count) Basie took over the piano in the early 30’s, Bennie left the keyboard to
him. He also brought in Walter Page on bass and Oran {Hot Lips) Page on trumpet. The
music of Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra took on a whole new aspect. The rhythm
literally swung away from the previous 2/4 propulsion of the tuba; and it caught not only the
ear of the public but also of many other band leaders.

Not long before Moten died, tenor saxophonist Ben Webster and vocalist Jimmie Rushing
were also brought into the band. After Bennie’s death, Bill Basie took a goodly number of
players from the Kansas City Orchestra and formed his own group: The Count Basie Band –
which, in one form or another, always seemed to retain something of the Moten influence.

MOTEN SWING- recorded for Victor in Camden, New Jersey in 1932, it was written in that
same year by Bennie and his nephew, Ira “Buster” Moten. It follows the common  32-bar
AABA format, and is based on the chord progression of  Walter Donaldson’s 1930
composition “You’re Drivin’ Me Crazy.”

MOTEN STOMP – written in 1927 by Bennie Moten and his trombone player Thamon
Hayes, this was a composition that was recorded in Chicago for Victor and made the popular
“charts” of 1928, where it remained #16 for two weeks.

SOUTH –composed in 1924 by Bennie Moten again with his trombone player, Thamon
Hayes. The recording, for Victor in 1928, was another Moten tune that made the popular
“charts” for that year. On his original recording of this tune in 1924, Moten used dual cornet
breaks (Lammar Wright and Harry Cooper) to get the sound that King Oliver and Louis
Armstrong had.

NEW TULSA BLUES- written by Bennie Moten and recorded for Victor in Chicago in 1927.
This piece followed three years after Moten’s first “Tulsa” composition written in 1923 and
simply titled “Tulsa Blues.”

KANSAS CITY BREAKDOWN- by Bennie Moten in 1928, and recorded for Victor in
Camden, New Jersey of that year by his Kansas City Orchestra which included Ed Lewis and
Booker Washington on cornets; Thamon Hayes on trombone; Jack Washington and Woody
Walder on reeds, Leroy Perry on banjo Vernon Page on tuba, and Willie McWashington on
drums.
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