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Donald Tecumseh Carson
Tee Carson
February 13, 2000
Age 70 
Lung Cancer 
  
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Editor's Pick: Count Basie Orchestra: Long Live The Chief
 
 
 
 

OBITUARY 
 
Donald 'Tee' Carson; Jazz Pianist Replaced Basie
                                                                              
      Donald Tecumseh "Tee" Carson, 70, a jazz pianist who replaced Count Basie on  
      piano in Basie's legendary big band after his death in 1984. A native of  
      Washington, D.C., Carson performed with some of the most renowned bands and  
      singers of the last century. Besides fronting his own trio for decades,  
      Carson accompanied such notable vocalists as Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Williams,  
      Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, Pearl Bailey and Tony Bennett from the 1950s to  
      the 1970s. Basie, who often played laconic counterpoint to his band's sharp  
      and spirited brass section, saw Carson as a suitable disciple and handpicked  
      him as a fill-in pianist as his health declined in the late 1970s. In 1987,  
      Carson's last year with the Basie outfit, Nat Hentoff wrote in the Wall  
      Street Journal that Carson "comes very close to approximating the catalytic  
      Basie touch." While working as a jazz pianist at night, Carson held a day  
      job with the Justice Department as a U.S. marshal. Carson moved to San  
      Francisco after his retirement from the Justice Department and hosted radio  
      jazz programs there. On Feb. 13 of lung cancer at his home in Cedar Park,   
      Texas.  ~ LA Times
    
  
 
NY TIMES
        
 Tee Carson, 70, Pianist in Count Basie Orchestra 

          By BEN RATLIFF 

               Donald Tecumseh (Tee) Carson, who inherited the piano chair from 
               Count Basie after the band leader's health failed, died on Feb. 13 
          at his home in Cedar Park, Tex.  

          He was 70.  

          The cause was lung cancer, said Shirley Cason, his sister.  

          In addition to his career as a jazz musician, Mr. Carson was a United 
          States marshal working at the Justice Department on surveillance duty. 
          He retired from the department in 1977.  

          In the late 1970's, when Count Basie's health problems began, Mr. 
          Carson started to fill in occasionally as pianist. He was something of a 
          Basie protégé, having a similarly self-editing, bare-bones rhythmic style.  

          When Basie died in 1984, Mr. Carson became the band's pianist, playing 
          in the posthumous Count Basie Orchestra alongside such jazz luminaries 
          as the saxophonist Frank Foster and the longtime Basie guitarist Freddie 
          Green.  

          John S. Wilson, writing in The New York Times about a 1985 
          performance of the Basie orchestra under the direction of Eric Dixon, 
          said that Mr. Carson "manages to suggest Mr. Basie's manner without 
          adopting it, using single-note lines that are a variant of Mr. Basie's lines, 
          and dropping gentle but propitious chords behind the soloists."  

          In the late 1980's Mr. Carson recorded with the Basie band as well as 
          with the saxophonists Frank Wess and Richie Cole.  

          Born in Washington, Mr. Carson became an electronics engineer at the 
          Federal Aviation Administration in the early 1950's and joined the Army 
          in the mid-50's.  

          Leaving the Washington area in the late 70's, he lived in San Francisco 
          for a time, where he played jazz and was a jazz disc jockey on WCSM.  

          In addition to his sister, of Fairfax, Va., Mr. Carson is survived by his 
          wife, Robin LaStofka Carson; two daughters, Ja Don Carson of Las 
          Vegas and Jan Hill of Boise, Idaho; a son, Donald, of Austin, Tex.; and 
          two grandchildren.

 
       
 

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BIOGRAPHY
 
 
Tee Carson is one of those outstanding musicians who has been an integral part of 
the San Francisco Bay Area jazz scene for what seems like forever.  Actually, he 
came here in 1977.  Many Bay Area jazz fans know him from his long run at 
San Francisco's Cypress Club or from his many nights at the piano at the  
Fairmont Hotel's posh New Orleans Room.  An even larger audience heard  
Tee's weekly radio show on KCSM, the all-jazz station in San Mateo.  

Tee was born and raised in Washington, D.C.  He first performed professionally 
there at a club opening featuring Ethel Waters.  He joined the union for that  
event and formed a trio.  According to Tee, this was in 1945 or 1946.  

A long-standing engagement at Washington's prestigious Shoreham Hotel brought  
Tee to prominence.  His trio was featured in the hotel's Marquis Lounge.  Also, 
in the main entertainment room at the Shoreham, the Blue Room, the Tee Carson  
Trio was the opening act for many famous visiting artists.  Tee's trio also  
accompanied them and he arranged big band charts for these artists, including  
Sammy Davis, Jr., Pearl Bailey, Lena Horne, and Robert Goulet.  Tee calls this  
period of his life "OJT" on-the-job training.  

Tee was first-call pianist in Washington, D.C., at that time.  He performed with  
Billie Holiday and was present at the jam sessions that proliferated in Washington. 
 A highlight of his career was his personal friendship with Art Tatum, whom he  
always revered.  Imagine a jam session at Tee's home with Tee and Tatum 
together at a spinet piano!  Some of the others who participated in these informal 
private sessions were Ahmad Jamal, Roger Williams, and Matt Dennis. 

In 1972, at the Howard Theatre, Tee met Ella Fitzgerald.  Ella's accompanist,  
Jimmy Jones, had suffered a heart attack.  His replacement was none other  
than Tee Carson.  In addition to his musical duties, Tee was also employed by 
the U.S. Marshall Service.  (He testified at the Watergate hearings.)   In 1977,  
Bobby Kennedy arranged a leave of absence for Tee so that he could work full- 
time with Ella.  

He worked with Ella throughout 1977.   They were frequently joined by Count  
Basie and his band and sometimes by another of Tee's heroes, Oscar Peterson. 

Basie's health problems became acute and Tee frequently took over the piano  
chair at The Count's request.  The two of them had become close friends.  Tee 
travelled with the Basie band for 14 years, until Basie's death in 1984.  With the 
Basie band, Tee travelled throughout the United States, Europe, South America, 
and Japan. ~Five Spot Records 
 
 

 
 
  
 
 

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HEAR OR BUY THE MUSIC
 
 
    • It is possible to hear the following cd's/songs by choosing from the links listed below. 
    • You can also purchase discounted cd's, tapes, vynyl, and videos from the same secure site.
           
    CD'S
     
    • 1986    Basie, Count       Long Live the Chief                  Piano 
    • 1988    Cole, Richie        Signature                                   Piano, Maraccas 
    • 1989    Basie, Count       Legend: The Legacy                Piano 
    • 1990    Wess, Frank       Entre Nous                                 Piano 
    • 1992    Concord Jazz     Jazz Celebration: A Tribute to Carl Jefferson 
    • 1999    Fitzgerald, Ella   Live from the Cave Super Club  Piano, Arranger
    •              Tee Carson        Tee Carson and Friends
     
          SONGS
     
 
 
 
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