THE JAZZ WORD

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Ben WebsterIt’s impossible not to be beguiled by Ben Webster’s tenor saxophone. He’s one of the greatest exponents on this sensual instrument, and yet he’s sometimes overshadowed by The Hawk and Pres, but he’s most definitely the equal of both of them. Today would have been ‘Frog’s’ 106th birthday, so what better excuse do we need than to celebrate his music?

Webster played with striking rhythmic momentum and had a rasping tone that added so much to both his own records and the numerous jazz greats he accompanied, from Billie and Ella to Duke Ellington and so many more during a career that spanned five decades.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1909 Ben Webster took up the saxophone relatively late, having at first been a professional pianist after studying at University in Ohio. He recorded with for Blanche Calloway’s band and Bennie Moten’s band in 1931, at the time it included Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing and Hot Lips Page, as well as working with Andy Kirk’s band that featured the extraordinary, Mary Lou Williams.

In the mid 1930s Ben moved to New York to play with Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra before joining Duke Ellington briefly. Four years later he became a featured soloist with Ellington’s Famous Orchestra, where Johnny Hodges helped Webster develop his style. Webster left Ellington and began to freelance, playing with Charlie Barnet’s Orchestra and with Johnny Hodges and his Orchestra.

His first session as a leader was for Norman Granz’s Norgran label in 1953 with Oscar Peterson, Barney Kessel, Ray Brown and J.C. Heard. The subsequent release was called The Consummate Artistry Of Ben Webster and it is so apposite. It was subsequently repackaged by Verve as Ben Webster – King of the Tenors. It includes ‘Tenderly’ which is one of the sublime moments of tenor-saxophoney.

Besides his own recordings Webster accompanied, Billie Holiday, Harry Sweets Edison, Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Rich, as well as making the album, Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster, it’s one that should be in every jazz fans’ collection..

By 1964 Webster relocated at first to London, and then Amsterdam before finally settling in Copenhagen, Denmark. He worked in Europe with visiting musicians including Duke Ellington, but he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in Amsterdam, in September 1973, following a performance in Leiden.

If you do nothing else today listen to Tenderly

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Charlie Parker passed away this day in 1955 in New York City aged just thirty four. What a legacy he left.

Listen to our Bird playlist here

“Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.” – Charlie Parker

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Charlie Parker Quintet at The Royal Roost, 1580 Broadway New York, 18 December 1948

“Charlie had a photographic mind. When we would rehearse a new arrangement, he would run his part down once and when we were ready to play it a second time, he knew the whole thing from memory.” – Earl Hines

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“They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art.” – Charlie Parker

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“I spent my first week in New York looking for Bird and Dizzy, Man, I went everywhere looking for those cats.” Miles Davis

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Charlie Parker with Dizzy Gillespie at the Town Hall in New York, June 1945

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Comments (3)

margber March 12th at 10:45am

Wonderful post. Love Charlie Parker's music. He influence on the Jazz world is strong and his legacy, a gift.

Lynn March 12th at 11:42am

Awesome, Bird Lives!

jazzlabels March 12th at 11:49am

Thanks so much! We're with you!

Satchmo Says…

“It’s been hard goddam work, man. Feel like I spent 20,000 years on the planes and railroads, like I blowed my chops off. Sure, pops, I like the ovation, but when I’m low, beat down, wonder if maybe I hadn’t of been better off staying home in New Orleans.”

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Thelonious Monk made a couple of appearances at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1975 and 1976 but other than that there was silence from the once prolific pianist. During this time he lived in New Jersey with his friend, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter.

Many conflicting stories have been put forward as to why Monk was absent. They range from drug theories, both his own use of them and the inadvertent taking of LSD; others talk of brain damage, most people agreed there were mental health issues. The fact is that he didn’t play in public, and those who appear to be in the know think he didn’t play in private either, after his 1976 Newport appearance, until he died in February 1982 from a stroke.

Whatever the theories, the circumstances or the truth, the one truth is that the world lost a great and gifted musician – a true jazz visionary. But he has left behind a body of work that offers a jazz landscape more diverse and more challenging than most of his contemporaries. Sure there are other jazz artists who played it obscure, but none of them played it half as well or half as interestingly as Thelonious Monk. The world is catching up with Monk. In 1993 he won a posthumous Grammy and in 2002 a Pulitzer Prize special citation. He’s no doubt up there, doing it straight. . .no chaser.

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