Basie, of course, wasn't baptised "Count". Neither was Astaire born "Astaire" - his family name was Austerlitz. Of Omaha, yet. Basie - William, that is - came by his title during his jazz apprenticeship in Kansas City. He'd often miss a work session, and the bandleader Bennie Moten would storm, "Where is that no-'count Basie?" Where, indeed? Bill Basie, won't you please...

Which is not to say that he wasn't a prince of a fellow, and Astaire, too. When they met, in New York, in the summer of 1960, to discuss the forthcoming TV special Astaire Time, it was like one royal to another. Astaire received him, Basie recalled, in his suite at the St Regis. "Well, Count Basie! So nice to... I'm so happy we could... I've been looking forward to..." and then a little conversation about building a dance around "Sweet Georgia Brown". "You got it!" Basie said.

Astaire remembered it otherwise - each of them deferring to the other. "You just play and I'll dance," he suggested. "No, no," Basie said, "you dance and I'll play."

There are also two versions of what happened next. The way Basie told it, he flew out of California, went directly to Astaire, and handed him the tape of "Sweet Georgia Brown". It was put on the machine, and Astaire started dancing. Not so, Astaire said. According to him, the plane landed; Basie was due at rehearsal, and then overdue. Seems he hightailed it out to the racetrack. Didn't show up till the next morning. "Well, man," he said, "I'm right outta money. Could you slip me five hundred?"

Astaire did - the money didn't matter - but to him rehearsals were sacrosanct. At 61, he still worked hard to make dance look easy. And, as he told it, the Count played hooky again - and again lost! But Astaire was patient. He like the turf himself; besides, he'd yearned for years to do the blues with Basie. He loaned him his box at the track and his chauffeur and, after Basie had played the ponies, fetched him back to play the piano. At the keys the Count was always a winner. And Astaire never lost a dance

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