Benny Carter -- saxaphone, trumpet, and clarinet great -- dies at 95
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon Jul 14 10:47:13 MDT 2003
WKCR, the Columbia University jazz radio station -- the world's
greatest music station, as far as I am concerned -- will be
broadcasting Carter's music 24 hours a day through Wednesday. WKCR,
located at 89.9 on the fm dial, can be heard via computer by
downloading MusicMatch or similar services. It can be hard to recieve
(although not impossible) outside Manhattan because its transmitting
tower on the World Trade Center was destroyed along with the WTC on
Benny Carter, 95, Jazz Musician and Arranger, Dies
By JOHN S. WILSON
Benny Carter, whose combination of highly developed talents as
composer, arranger, bandleader and soloist on a variety of instruments
was unmatched in the jazz world, died Saturday at a hospital in Los
Angeles. He was 95.
A Versatile Master
Benny Carter's career was remarkable for both its length and its
consistently high musical achievement, from his first recordings in
the 1920's to his youthful-sounding improvisations in the 1990's. His
pure-toned, impeccably phrased performances made him one of the two
pre-eminent alto saxophonists in jazz, with Johnny Hodges, from the
late 1920's until the arrival of Charlie Parker in the mid-1940's. He
was also an accomplished soloist on trumpet and clarinet, and on
occasion he played piano, trombone and both tenor and baritone
He helped to lay the foundation for the swing era of the late 1930's
and early 40's with arrangements he had written a decade earlier for
his own big band and the orchestras of Fletcher Henderson and Chick
Webb, as well as for Benny Goodman before Goodman was acclaimed as the
King of Swing. He later contributed arrangements and compositions to
Glenn Miller and Count Basie.
>From 1929 to 1946, Mr. Carter led big bands sparkling with young
talent. His band in the early 1930's included the pianist Teddy
Wilson, the saxophonist Chu Berry, the trombonist J. C. Higginbotham
and the drummer Sid Catlett. A decade later, his contingent of future
jazz stars included the trombonists J. J. Johnson and Al Grey, the
trumpeter Miles Davis and the drummer Max Roach.
His compositions included "Blues in My Heart," "When Lights Are Low,"
"Blue Star," "Lonesome Nights," "Doozy" and "Symphony in Riffs."
Beginning in the early 1940's, he composed and orchestrated music for
films, and from the late 50's he also composed for television.
In 1962, when Mr. Carter was only 54, the critic Whitney Balliett
wrote in The New Yorker that "few of his contemporaries continue to
play or arrange or compose as well as he does, and none of them plays
as many instruments and arranges and composes with such aplomb."
"Carter, indeed, belongs to that select circle of pure-jazz musicians
who tend to represent the best of their times," the piece continued.
His public fame did not always match his accomplishments, and his only
major hit of the big band era was "Cow-Cow Boogie," a novelty tune
sung by Ella Mae Morse. However, early in his career his fellow
musicians nicknamed him simply the King, and among them he was held in
universally high regard.
The trumpeter Doc Cheatham recalled that "we broke our backs to get
into Benny's band" because musicians learned so much from performing
with him. Sy Oliver, whose brilliant arrangements gave the Jimmie
Lunceford orchestra of the 1930's and the Tommy Dorsey band of the
1940's their distinctive cachet, said Mr. Carter was "the most
complete professional musician I've ever known."
And John Hammond, the record producer who nurtured the careers of
Count Basie, Billie Holiday and Benny Goodman, said Mr. Carter was
"one of the great influences in American music, one of its unsung
Mr. Carter was not widely known to the jazz public until his
emergence, in his 70's, as an acclaimed elder statesman. His lack of
public recognition was sometimes attributed to the fact that his
bearing was reserved and dignified, that he was not a flamboyant
showman. Moreover, as the drummer J. C. Heard suggested, "his music
was a little too refined" for the 1930's and 40's, when he was leading
a big band.
Bennett Lester Carter was born on Aug. 8, 1907, the youngest of three
children and the only boy. He was reared in a neighborhood called San
Juan Hill, then one of the roughest areas in Manhattan, near what is
now Lincoln Center.
When he was a youngster, his musical idols were trumpeters his
cousin Theodore (Cuban) Bennett, who never recorded but whose advanced
musical ideas were attested to by many musicians, and Bubber Miley, a
star of Duke Ellington's orchestra in the late 1920's who lived around
When he was 13, he bought a trumpet at a pawnshop, but when he was
unable to play it after a weekend of effort he traded it in for a
By the time he was 15, he was sitting in with bands in Harlem. He got
his first full-time job when he was 19, with Charlie Johnson's band at
Smalls' Paradise in Harlem.
When he made his first records in 1928, with the Johnson band, the
session included two of his own arrangements.
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