Later, in 1939, would be one of Basie's most famous Harlem performances. Chick Webb led the band at the Savoy Ballroom on Lenox Ave and the venue's two stages allowed for some amped-up cutting contests. Much like the rap battles of today, cutting contests pitted two virtuosos against each other trading solos, usually at the piano, for jazz supremacy. Not only were the bandleaders of fearsome reputation, but each employed young female singers. Webb featured Ella Fitzgerald and Basie had Billie Holliday. Not only did Basie hold his own in Chick Webb's own theater, but many thought Basie's poise and subtle musicianship bested Webb's furious playing and bombastic style.
Over the course of his career, Basie would work with an incredible roster of vocalists. He played with Holliday in the 30s and 40s and would later record with Ella, Jimmy Rushing, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis, Jr, and Bing Crosby. Plus Basie gets a special thumbs up from me for his very funny cameo in the Mel Brooks classic Blazing Saddles.