The Blue Devils were an early Kansas City Jazz band, several members of this band would go on to and play in Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra and the Count Basie Orchestra. The founder of the Blue Devils was Walter Page. The band started in Oklahoma City in 1925. The Blue Devils played in the Southwest and travelling by car played small clubs and dance halls. In 1928 Jimmy Rushing and Bill "Count" Basie joined the band, and would play with them until the following year when Bennie Moten lured Basie away from the band. Shortly after Basie's departure, Durham quit and later Rushing and Lips Page would also join Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra. The Blue Devils regrouped and hired Lester Young and Druie Bess, but Moten ended up absorbing most of the Blue Devils, even including Walter Page. After a series of misadventures in 1933, The Blue Devils found themselves stranded in Virginia, without instruments or money. They hopped a freight train back to St. Louis. Moten ended up hiring the remnants of the band, including Lester Young. After Moten's death in 1935, Count Basie took over the Kansas City Orchestra.
Alvin Borroughs Drums
Walter Page Tuba
Hot Lips Page Tumpet
Reuben Lynch Guitar
Ted Manning Alto Saxophone
Dan Minor Trombone
Reuben Roddy Tenor Saxophone
Jimmy Rushing Vocals
James Simpson Tumpet
Buster Smith Clarinet, Alto Saxophone
Charlie Washington Piano
One of the finest bassists of the swing era, Walter Page rarely soloed but his four-to-the-bar walking behind soloists set the standard for bassists in the 1930s before the rise of Jimmy Blanton. A longtime resident of Kansas City, Page was with Bennie Moten in the early days (1918-1923) and then during 1925-1931 led the Blue Devils, Moten's main competition. Unfortunately Page's group only made two recordings and by 1931 Moten had achieved his goal of stealing most of the band's top players, including Page himself. After Moten's death in 1935, Walter Page achieved fame as part of Count Basie's unbeatable rhythm section (along with the pianist/leader, rhythm guitarist Freddie Green and drummer Jo Jones) during 1935-1942 and 1946-1949. He spent his remaining years playing with Eddie Condon's Dixieland bands and with his friends from the swing world, including Hot Lips Page, Jimmy Rushing, and various Basie alumni. Page collapsed on the way to filming The Sound of Jazz and died shortly after at the age of 57.
More than any other jazz bass player in history, Page is credited with developing and popularizing the “walking bass” style of playing on all four beats, a transition from the older, two-beat style. “He started that ‘strolling’ or walking’ bass,” recalls Harry “Sweets” Edison, “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.” Page himself acknowledges the influence of Wellman Braud, who may have been the first bassist to actually record the “walking bass” technique on Washington Wobble. While it remains unclear who, exactly, was the true “originator” of the walking bass style, Page is nonetheless accepted as one of, if not the primary, proponent of the style.
Page is seen as the “logical extension of [bassist] Pops Foster,” a influential bassist known for his dependable timekeeping. Page is also recognized as “one of the first bassists to play four beats to the bar,” in contrast to the two-beat style of New Orleans jazz. Band mate Eddie Durham recalls how Page helped make the double bass a viable alternative to bass horns, such as the tuba: “Without amplification, a lot of guys weren’t strong enough on bass fiddle. But Walter Page you could hear!” Page’s imposing stature led Durham to state that “he was like a house with a note.” Jazz critic Gunther Schuller notes describes some of Page’s other stylistic contributions: “For the bass functions simultaneously on several levels: as a rhythm instrument; as a pitch instrument delineating the harmonic progression; and, since the days of Walter Page, as a melodic or contrapuntal instrument.” Page was also famous for his restraint, a lesson fellow bassist Gene Ramey recounts:
“There’s a whole lot [you] could do here… but what you must do is play a straight line, because that man out there’s waiting for food from you. You could run chord changes on every chord that’s going on. You’ve got time to do it. But if you do, you’re interfering with that guy [the soloist]. So run a straight line.”
Although he was not well-known as a soloist, Walter Page recorded one of the earliest jazz solos on the double bass on “Pagin’ the Devil” with the Kansas City Six. He did, however contribute to the legitimacy of the double bass as a melodic instrument, "...open[ing] the door for virtuosos like [Duke Ellington Orchestra bassist] Jimmy Blanton to garner more respect for the instrument," through improvisation. "Without Page setting the table," writes DiCaire, "the exploits of Blanton would never have happened." “I’m not just a bass player,” Walter Page once said, “I’m a musician with a foundation.”