Walter Sylvester Page was born in Gallatin, Missouri on February 9th, 1900 to parents Edward and Blanche Page. Page showed a love for music even as a child, perhaps due in part to the influence of his aunt Lillie, a music teacher. Page’s mother, with whom he moved to Kansas City in 1910, exposed young Walter to folksongs and spirituals, a critical foundation for developing his love of music. He gained his first musical experience as a bass drum and bass horn player in the brass bands of his neighborhood. Under the direction of Major N. Clark Smith, a retired military bandleader who provided Page his first formal training in music, Page took up the string bass in his time at Lincoln High School. In an interview in The Jazz Review, Page remembers Major Smith:
- “Major N. Clark Smith was my teacher in high school. He taught almost everybody in Kansas City. He was a chubby little cat, bald, one of the old military men. He wore glasses on his nose and came from Cuba around 1912 or 1914. He knew all the instruments and couldn’t play anything himself, but he could teach. ...ne day he was looking for a bass player and no one was around, so he looked at me, and said, “Pagey, get the bass.” I said, “But,” and he repeated, “Get the bass.” That’s when I got started.”
In addition to the influence of Smith, Page also drew inspiration from bassist Wellman Braud, who Page had the opportunity to see when he came to town with a band under the direction of John Wycliffe. “I was sitting right in the front row of the high school auditorium,” recalled Page, “and all I could hear was the oomp, oomp, oomp of that bass, and I said, that’s for me.” What attracted Page to Braud was Braud’s intensity. “When Braud got ahold of that bass, he hit those tones like hammers and made them jump right out of the box.”
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