Benny Carter

Saxophonist/composer Benny Carter was born in New York City on August 8, 1907. The first and probably the most all encompassing of the multi-instrumentalists of jazz, he has been recognized as a competent pianist and guitarist, an able trombonist, an excellent trumpeter, a clarinet virtuoso, and on saxophone one of the most influential formulators of style in jazz history. If we add to these accomplishments his hundreds of original compositions, plus the fact that he was one of the pioneers who helped establish the canons of orchestrating for a big band, it becomes clear why he is one of the elder statesmen of the music, one of its most erudite theorists as well as one of its most thoroughly experienced players.

 

But it is primarily as a saxophonist that Carter has staked his claim, and students of the music of the 1930s will know that his recorded alto solos throughout the decade are miracles of poise and suave urbanity, that he evolved an intensely personal method of swooping in a thrilling legato style across the entire range of the instrument, and that the result was elegance without even a suspicion of effeteness. Like his partner on so many occasions, Coleman Hawkins, with whom he worked in the Fletcher Henderson band of the 1920s, he spent much time in Europe up to 1939, and more recently worked with many lions of the modern movement. Carter was one of the first men to master the art of scoring for a saxophone section (witness his legendary transcription for four saxophones of "All of Me”); his jazz has always been learned without being bookish, his technique classically complete, his originality unchallenged by anyone with the slightest pretensions to knowledge of the jazz life.

 

Benny Carter died July 12, 2003.