Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Bennett Lester Carter, 8 August 1907, NYC; d 12 July 2003) Composer, arranger, alto sax; one of the giants of jazz, mainly self-taught. He worked with Horace and Fletcher Henderson, Chick Webb, McKinney's Cotton Pickers and on Chocolate Dandies sessions; he started his own band and organized an all-star band for visiting composer Spike Hughes '33. To Europe '35; he was a staff arranger for the Henry Hall BBC band (e.g. 'I'm Putting All My Eggs In One Basket', 'One, Two, Button Your Shoe', '36-7), and recorded with Hall sidemen in a BBC studio (Swingin' At Maida Vale, UK Decca compilation), in Paris April '37 for a famous session with Coleman Hawkins and Django Reinhardt (e.g. 'Honeysuckle Rose', 'Crazy Rhythm'). He led an interracial, international big band at the Dutch seaside that summer. He had his own band again in USA '38, a sextet '41, a new band '43 on West Coast; he settled there and became a freelance writer/arranger in films, TV, jazz festivals, etc. Journey To Next on Lightyear Entertainment '96 presented seven soundtracks to animated films by John and Faith Hubley '56-85, five by Carter, one each by Dizzy Gillespie and Quincy Jones (the music was made first and the films made to the music, rather than the other way around).

He recorded under his own name almost every year '33-46; everything he touched had quality all over it. Brought in for two Lionel Hampton small-group sessions '37-9, the result was some of the best of about 100 such Hampton recordings of the period. His 'Hurry, Hurry!' '44 on Capitol (vocal by Savannah Churchill) was top ten in the Billboard 'Harlem Hit Parade', a no. 23 juke box hit and a no. 2 country hit. He began recording again '53-7 for producer Norman Granz, including a set with Johnny Hodges and Charlie Parker '53, quartet set with Art Tatum '54; CD Benny Carter's New Jazz Sounds: The Urbane Sessions on Verve compiled '50s sessions with strings, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge; 3, 4, 5 on Verve compiled small-group sessions. He also played clarinet; fine trumpet on 'I Surrender Dear', and a trombone solo on 'All I Ever Do Is Worry' (with Julia Lee), both on Capitol. On alto sax he had no equal in the '30s-40s except Hodges; as an arranger very few.

Apart from records under his own name he wrote for Fletcher Henderson '27-37, Ellington ('Jazz Cocktail', '32), others; the Hampton date of September '39 included a famous version of his own best-known tune 'When Lights Are Low'; there were dates '40 with Coleman Hawkins and Billie Holiday. The later studio work didn't stop the jazz output. He wrote LPs Kansas City Suite and The Legend for Count Basie '60-1, among that band's best post-war sets; his own albums included Jazz Giant '57 and Swingin' The Twenties '58 on Contemporary, Aspects '57-9 on UA (aka Jazz Calendar, later on Capitol CD). Further Definitions '61 on Impulse duplicated the instrumentation and some of the tunes of the '37 Paris session: with four reeds including Hawk and a rhythm section, the writing is so rich that the group sounds much bigger. (Additions To Further Definitions '66 with different personnel was only slightly less successful.) B.B.B. & Co. '62 with Barney Bigard and Ben Webster was issued on Prestige; he led an octet at Montreux '75, played on Basie Jam No. 2, led a quartet at Montreux '77, made sextet LP The King and Benny Carter And Dizzy Gillespie '76, Benny Carter 4 At Montreux and Live And Well In Japan '77, all on Granz's Pablo label. Other LPs: Summer Serenade '80 on Storyville, Gentlemen Of Swing '80 on Japanese East Wind with Harry Edison, Milt Hinton, Teddy Wilson, Shelly Manne; Skyline Drive '82 on Phontastic from Monterey Jazz Festival, with Plas Johnson, eight others; his work at the Chicago Jazz Festival early '80s was further proof that the iron was still hot.

He toured with a Swing Reunion group in '80s with George Duvivier, Louie Bellson, Red Norvo, Remo Palmieri (guitarist, b 29 March 1923 NYC, d there 2 February 2002): three-disc live set on CD; Benny Carter's All Stars '87 on Gazell with Norvo, Nat Adderley, Horace Parlan. A new career on MusicMaster CDs: American Jazz Orchestra '87 (including suite Central Cities Sketches), Cookin' At Carlos 1 '88, The Benny Carter All-Star Sax Ensemble: Over The Rainbow (yet another re-creation of the sound of the '37 Paris session) and In The Mood For Swing '89, All That Jazz (live at Princeton) and My Man Benny, My Man Phil (with Phil Woods) '90, Harlem Renaissance '92 (two-CDs of ambitious arranging played by the Rutgers U. Orchestra), Elegy In Blue '94, quartet New York Nights '95, quintet Songbook '95 with vocalists including Peggy Lee, Weslia Whitfield, Bobby Short etc. Mel Martin Plays Benny Carter '94 on Enja has Carter on three live tracks with Roger Kellaway and reedman Martin's studio session with Kenny Barron; two-CD quintet Another Time, Another Place '96 on Evening Star was recorded at the Regattabar, co-led by Woods. Over 60 years after forming his first band Carter had a home page on the Internet; his two-volume bio-discography was published by Scarecrow Press.