Benny Carter was one of the most successful jazz saxophonists in the history of the music. His career spanned eight decades, a feat nearly unequalled by any musician, regardless of genre.
Master of the alto sax, Benny Carter also played trumpet (the first instrument he learned to play), tenor sax, and clarinet.
At one time or another he played with Ella Fitzgerald, Art Tatum, Django Reinhardt, Charlie Barnett, Charlie Christian, Ernestine Anderson, Coleman Hawkins, and others.
He was a prolific composer, and his arrangements were played by Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughan, Fletcher Henderson, Lawrence Welk, Glenn Miller, Gene Krupa, Peggy Lee, Quincy Jones, and far too many others to list here.
His own discography, as listed on allmusic.com, isn’t as long as one might expect for a musician with such a lengthy, distinguished career. But when you check the list of albums he is credited on, either as sax player, arranger, or composer, the list goes on and on and on.
Given that Benny Carter was such a titan of the genre, picking one album to shine the spotlight on was not easy. Arguments could be made that any number of other albums would be better suited for this column, and you won’t get any argument from me.
(I’m going to be making a decision soon as to whether or not to continue writing this column. It’s safe to say that if I decide to continue, at some point in the future I’ll be discussing one of those other albums. Right now there are too many other deserving artists that I haven’t talked about even once.)
|In The Mood For Swing, 1987, Musical Heritage Society edition
The album I’m going to talk about this time around is “In The Mood For Swing”, a wonderful disk that was recorded in 1987 when Carter was 80 years old.
The personnel for this one are:
Benny Carter, alto sax
Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet (on “Another Time, Another Place”, “Not So Blue”, and “South Side Samba”)
Roland Hanna, piano
George Mraz, bass
Louie Bellson, drums
Howard Alden, Guitar
According to Ed Berger’s liner notes, Carter and Gillespie had only recorded together once in each of the previous six decades. Despite this, they played in concert together many times and had a deep mutual respect for each other. Carter and Bellson also had a relationship that went back to the early 1940’s.
Every one of the eleven songs on this disk was written by Benny Carter.
“I’m In The Mood For Swing” was written in 1937 and originally was a big band piece. As track one should on an album like this, “I’m In The Mood” gets the program off to a rousing start and establishes the credentials of all the parties involved.
“Another Time, Another Place” follows. This is certainly a more mellow song than its predecessor, but Roland Hanna’s piano opens it quickly and simply, and lends an air of restrained energy. This feeling is furthered along by Gillespie’s muted trumpet. Eventually we come back to Hanna and the rhythm section before Carter returns to end it.
“Rock Me To Sleep” is anything but the lullaby the name might make you expect. It was previously recorded as a vocal by Helen Humes, Peggy Lee and others. Again according to the liner notes, Carter had never recorded the song, and was uneasy with the idea of recording it as an instrumental. I think you will agree with my judgment that his fears were ungrounded, a sentiment shared by Berger.
I would love to hear some of the vocal versions of this song, but considering the major premise of this column, I can’t imagine any of them being better than this animated instrumental as “jazz for a Saturday night.”
“The Romp” is about as aptly-named as any song could be, opening with Mraz’s bass and Hanna’s piano, and soon joined by Carter and the others. By the time Alden’s guitar joins in, Mraz is playing his fingers off and Bellson is beating the shit out of his cymbal, and no, I won’t pretend to know whether it’s the ride or high hat.
If I were to write about every song on this album that I like, I’d be writing about every song on this album. So I’ll pick one more to wrap things up, and none is more appropriate than “South Side Samba”. This is the final song on the album, and features all six members of the group in a calypso-styled song that will definitely leave you wanting more. This was only the second time Carter recorded this song. While purists will say “South Side Samba” is not, strictly speaking, an actual samba, Carter named it as he did because he liked the sound of the esses and the alliteration. Everyone gets a good workout, especially Hanna, who appeared on the previous recorded version.
All-in-all, “In The Mood For Swing” would make a great addition to any jazz lover’s personal playlist, whether for a Saturday or any other night.
Here is the only YouTube video I could find that features Benny Carter and Dizzy Gillespie. The clip is from a live concert, but no information is given as to when or where it was filmed. I’m guessing it was in the 1980’s, but I’ve no idea where, or who the sidemen were.
To learn more about Benny Carter and his music, I’m going to give you a choice of web sites. Benny’s own web site seems to be down for the count, but I’m giving you this link with the hope it may return some day. [NOTE: As of 11-26-2011, Benny’s site is back up and running. I am going to leave the other links in place however, just in case.]
Until then, you can read more about Benny Carter here and here.
You can find “In The Mood For Swing” and several of his other albums for sale on Amazon.com.
Normally I only give the artists own web page, so the artist can benefit directly from any purchase you may choose to make. But since Benny’s site seems to be MIA, I am providing the above link so you can obtain his music on Amazon, if you so desire. His work is available elsewhere also, and a simple web search will provide you with alternate sources.
Next week is the Thanksgiving holiday in the US, and I may decide to take a break so I can give this whole concept some thought.
I’ll post a message here and on Twitter (you can find and follow me there as @JazzJock if you like) no later than next Friday night to let you know what I’m going to do.
In the meantime, I hope you and your loved ones have a wonderful holiday. 🙂
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