Bennie Moten Day

November 13, 1894 – April 2, 1935

A tribute to the 1920s bandleader

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Pianist and leader Bennie Moten was born on November 13, 1894 in Kansas City, Missouri.

A ragtime-oriented pianist, Moten worked during the later years of the ragtime era and in the early 1920s formed an influential jazz orchestra in Kansas City.

Moten’s band, which was considered the best in the Midwest during the 1920s, recorded for Okeh and, by 1926, Victor, infusing their brand of jazz with a strong blues element.

In 1929, Moten’s big band started adding some of the top young swing-oriented musicians including baritonist Jack Washington, solo trumpeter Hot Lips Page, lead trumpeter Ed Lewis, trombonist-guitarist-arranger Eddie Durham, bassist Walter Page, singer Jimmy Rushing and pianist Count Basie.

After Basie joined the group, Moten stopped playing piano on records and the group became more modern, hitting their peak at a Dec. 13, 1932 session that also included Ben Webster on tenor.

Moten was also known as a songwriter who composed “South” and “Moten Swing.”

Tragically Bennie Moten died in 1935 from a botched tonsillectomy at the age of 40; his orchestra became the nucleus of Count Basie’s new big band.

No films exist of Bennie Moten so here is the studio version of his band’s recording of “Band Box Shuffle” from Oct. 23, 1928.

– Scott Yanow


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