Donald Tecumseh "Tee" Carson, 70, a U.S. marshal who played professional jazz piano and replaced Count Basie on the ivories after that influential bandleader died in 1984, died of lung cancer Feb. 13 at his home in Cedar Park, Tex.
A Washington native, Mr. Carson performed with some of the most renowned bands and singers of the last century. After graduating from Armstrong High School, he traveled the East Coast on jazz dates, and by the 1950s had accompanied Ethel Waters and Ella Fitzgerald.
Besides fronting his own trio for decades--frequently with area drummer Bertell Knox--Mr. Carson accompanied such notable vocalists as Joe Williams, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, Pearl Bailey and Tony Bennett from the 1950s to 1970s.
Mr. Carson's recordings include "Live at El Morocco" with the Basie orchestra and "Entre Nous" with tenor saxophonist and Basie sideman Frank Wess. His last release was "Tee Carson and Friends" in 1999.
Basie, who often played laconic counterpoint to his sharp and spirited brassmen, saw Mr. Carson as an appropriate disciple and handpicked him as a fill-in pianist as his health failed in the late 1970s. "Basie liked his easy style," said Mr. Carson's sister, Shirley A. Cason, of Fairfax. Mr. Carson "had an easy left hand, and Basie was not one of those real heavy players."
Leonard Feather, writing in the Los Angeles Times in 1986, said Mr. Carson "has in his solos just enough of the elliptical touch of the Count to provide a link, but without crossing the border into overt imitation."
In 1987, Mr. Carson's last year with the Basie outfit, Nat Hentoff wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Mr. Carson "comes very close to approximating the catalytic Basie touch. A veteran of the road, Mr. Carson has the knowing air of a pianist in an old Dodge City saloon."
When not playing at night, Mr. Carson was an electronics engineer at the Federal Aviation Administration in the early 1950s, joined the Army in the mid-1950s and worked at the Justice Department on surveillance duty.
He moved to San Francisco after retiring as a U.S. marshal in 1977 and hosted jazz shows on WCSM-FM there. In California, he also conducted jazz workshops at high schools and played in jazz festivals.
His marriages to June Mann and Janet Wilson ended in divorce.
In addition to his sister, survivors include his wife of six years, Robin LaStofka Carson of Cedar Park; two daughters from the second marriage, Ja Don Carson of Las Vegas and Jan Hill of Boise, Idaho; a son from the second marriage, Donald, of Austin; two stepsons, Ezra Stephens of Juneau, Alaska, and Shane Stephens of San Jose; and two grandchildren.