Redevelopment of Kansas City’s rich jazz heritage is evident at 18th and Vine. You might be surprised, however, to learn that one of the bass players who helped build this tradition was originally from Gallatin, MO. Walter Page (1900-1957) called Gallatin home.

Walter Sylvester Page, (born to Edward and Blanche Page on Feb. 9, 1900, at Gallatin, MO) was an American swing-era musician, one of the first to play “walking” lines on the string bass. A pioneer of the Southwestern jazz style, he was a star of the Count Basie Band during its greatest period. Page clearly understood the role of bass in jazz. His family moved to Kansas City when he was 10 years old. Page became one of the most important figures in jazz, beginning in 1920. He earned a degree in music education and played bass in the Bennie Moten Orchestra before forming Walter Page’s Blue Devils. When Moten passed in 1935, Count Basie assumed leadership and Page re-joined the newly minted ensemble, the “All American Rhythm Section.”

He received musical training from Major N. Clark Smith at Lincoln High School and at the University of Kansas before leading the Blue Devils band during a time when its musicians included Count (then just “Bill”) Basie, Eddie Durham and Lester Young.

Bandleader Bennie Moten began hiring away talented members of the Blue Devils, and eventually Page himself went over to the Moten Band. When Moten died, Page stayed with a core of musicians who metamorphosed into the band led by Basie at the Reno Club. Page was a key member of Basie’s all-important rhythm section. Drummer Jo Jones often credited Page as a major influence and pragmatic music instructor.

Bennie Moten (1894-1935) might be considered the Godfather of Kansas City Jazz. The bandleader is remembered less for the recordings under his own name than for the roster of future jazz stars he employed and influenced. These include Count Basie, Harlan Leonard, “Hot Lips” Page, Eddie Durham, and Ben Webster among others.

— written, researched and presented by David Stark, Gallatin, MO

Jazz leader Walter Page of Gallatin, MO, had a major influence on the jazz masters of his day, including Duke Ellington and Count Basie. He is shown here with Freddie Green (guitar), Jo Jones (drums), and Count Basie (piano) on Nov. 9, 1938. His early death at age 57 on Dec. 20, 1957, in New York may have been a factor contributing to his relative obscurity in the history of jazz.