The legendary Ben Webster this weekend. Recorded live in Paris in November of 1972, Webster is joined by Georges Arvanitas on piano, Jacky Samson on bass and Charles Saudrais on drums for some solid, straight-ahead music making.
Webster has long been considered one The Big Three tenor players in Swing Jazz history – splitting the honors with Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins. Known for his tough, raspy, and brutal tone on stomps (with growls), on ballads he played with warmth and sentiment. That he transitioned over from Big Band to small group efforts speaks to his ability to continue branching out and influencing other tenor players.
Ben Webster played with Duke Ellington’s orchestra for the first time in 1935, and by 1940 was performing with it full-time as the band’s first major tenor soloist. He credited Johnny Hodges, Ellington’s alto soloist, as a major influence on his playing. During the next three years, he played on many recordings, including “Cotton Tail” and “All Too Soon”; his contributions (together with that of bassist Jimmy Blanton) were so important that Ellington’s orchestra during that period is known as the Blanton–Webster band. Webster left the band in 1943 after an angry altercation during which he allegedly cut up one of Ellington’s suits.
After leaving Ellington in 1943, Webster worked on 52nd Street in New York City, where he recorded frequently as both a leader and a sideman. During this time he had short periods with Raymond Scott, John Kirby, Bill DeArango, and Sid Catlett, as well as with Jay McShann‘s band, which also featured blues shouter Jimmy Witherspoon. For a few months in 1948, he returned briefly to Ellington’s orchestra.
In 1953, he recorded King of the Tenors with pianist Oscar Peterson, who would be an important collaborator with Webster throughout the decade in his recordings for the various labels of Norman Granz. Along with Peterson, trumpeter Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison and others, he was touring and recording with Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic package. In 1956, he recorded a classic set with pianist Art Tatum, supported by bassist Red Callender and drummer Bill Douglass. Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster with fellow tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins was recorded on December 16, 1957, along with Peterson, Herb Ellis (guitar), Ray Brown (bass), and Alvin Stoller (drums). The Hawkins and Webster recording is a jazz classic, the coming together of two giants of the tenor saxophone, who had first met back in Kansas City.
In the late 1950s, he formed a quintet with Gerry Mulligan and played frequently at a Los Angeles club called Renaissance. It was there that the Webster-Mulligan group backed up blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon on an album recorded live.
Although not all that flexible or considered modern, he remained rooted in blues and swing-era ballads, Webster could swing with the best and his tone was a later influence on such diverse players as Archie Shepp, Lew Tabackin, Scott Hamilton, David Murray, and Bennie Wallace.
For those of you just getting your feet wet in Jazz and want to become familiar with those influential players who transcended eras and styles, Ben Webster is an essential figure to explore – and this concert is one of those reasons why.
Caveat: the broadcast fades in at the beginning of Pointing Blues, missing the intro – but everything else is intact. Sometimes history just misses a few things here and there.