Tuesday, April 15, 2008

King of the tenors

Feel like playing some jazz today, so here goes. Ben Webster has long been one of my favorite tenors. He was every inch as good as his slightly better known contemporaries Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins, the latter also being his main influence. Webster could honk with the best of them, but it´s his ballad playing that really set him apart. His rich, warm and tender tone really shines when the tempo is slow, the room is smoky and the hour gets late.

Ben Webster (born 1909 in Kansas City) started out professionally in movie theatres, playing the piano to accompany silent movies. One night he met a guy who showed him some saxophone riffs and he was hooked for life. His first real claim to fame was a stint with the Duke Ellington Band in the fourties. It proved very succesfull, but he had to leave eventually because he fell out with Duke. Invited to play a little piano with Ellington on stage, he overstayed his welcome behind the keyboard, which angered the boss. Webster retaliated by cutting up one of Duke´s best suits, and got his marching orders pronto. A couple of years later he would be back in the Ellington ranks for a spell though.

Webster recorded his best music in the fifties, often backed by pianist Oscar Peterson´s group. 53´s great King Of The Tenors (Verve) found him playing with Peterson, trumpeter Harry Edison and alto Benny Carter. The Ellington composition Don´t Get Around Much Any More is a good example of their style. The album Soulville (Verve ´57) was another classic Webster-Peterson combination. Where Are You is a piece of melancholia supreme. Gerry Mulligan Meets Ben Webster (Verve ´59) saw Ben playing with the great baritone saxophonist. It proved another sure win, of which Sunday is a perfect illustration.

Ben Webster Meets Oscar Peterson (Verve ´59) was again a fine collaboration between two giants of jazz, with their interpretation of In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning being top of the bill. Frank Sinatra´s original, from his justly famous In The Wee Small Hours album (Capitol ´55), isn´t too shabby either by the way... Last but not least Webster recorded some amazing tracks between ´53 and ´59 with fellow tenor Coleman Hawkins. Eventually collected as Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster (Verve) and later as Compact Jazz (Universal, with bonus tracks), it´s one of my fave jazz albums of all time. Check out You´d Be So Nice To Come Home To to see what I mean.

Webster relocated to Copenhagen in the early sixties. His style wasn´t en vogue anymore in the States, where John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and co were mapping out new paths in jazz. In Europe he still had a large fanbase and could tour extensively. A gentle bear of a man with the reputation to be totally unpredictable when under the influence, Ben Webster died in Amsterdam in 1973. Seems like the Dutch capital is not the best destination for aging jazz cats, as Don Byas and Chet Baker breathed their last there as well.

Ben Webster - Don´t Get Around Much Any More MP3
Ben Webster - Where Are You MP3
Gerry Mulligan And Ben Webster - Sunday MP3
Ben Webster - In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning MP3
Frank Sinatra - In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning MP3
Coleman Hawkins And Ben Webster - You´d Be So Nice To Come Home To MP3


Paul said...

Great post. Love to see the jazz. I'm going to try to get more jazz going too.

Katie said...

I just tried to subscribe to your blog by clicking on your subscribe button under "Subscribe to this blog," and when I got to my google reader your blog was labeled "(Title Unknown)" and showed no posts. Instead I just copied your URL and added the feed manually, and that worked. Just thought you'd like to know!

Also, just the movement of the pointer over links as I was trying to click on the "leave a comment button" produced a TORRENT of pop-up links/windows. So hard to navigate and it makes me scared to tried to click things!!!!

Thanks for good music, anyhow :)

Ramone666 said...

Katie, that´s strange. I´ll look into the subscribe function asap. You don´t have to be afraid of the popups btw, that´s just a gadget called snapshots, and it´s totally harmless.