100 Jazz Profiles
1907 - 2003
Saxophonist, trumpeter, arranger. One of the most versatile and long-lived figures in jazz, Carter was one of the finest alto saxophonists of the swing era, but he was also a first-rate trumpeter, and made convincing discs on several other instruments including tenor sax, clarinet and piano.
As an arranger, his work spanned all styles from swing to jazz rock. He wrote pioneering big band charts for Charlie Johnson in 1928, arranged for Fletcher Henderson's great swing orchestra in the late 1920s and early 1930s, as well as McKinney's Cotton Pickers. Later he wrote for his own orchestras, as well as composing Count Basie's acclaimed Kansas City Suite, and scoring rock-influenced albums for Sarah Vaughan. He wrote several jazz standards including the famous When Lights Are Low.
Carter was born in New York, and after working with several bands including Henderson's and McKinney's, formed his own first band in 1932. In the mid-1930s, he was based in Europe, working for the BBC as an arranger, and making numerous freelance recordings. On returning to the USA, he re-formed his band, which he led on and off until 1946, when he began to focus on a Hollywood studio career as a composer.
He occasionally re-formed his big band, but in the 1970s, after writing for many star singers and bandleaders, he began to perform again regularly, both as a soloist and leader. His busy arranging career continued, but although he went on winning Grammies for his writing, he ceased performing in the late 1990s. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton in December 2000.
Morroe Berger, Edward Berger and James Patrick: Benny Carter: A Life In American music (Metuchen, NJ, Scarecrow Press) 1982
Benny Carter (1928-1952) (RCA Jazz Tribune ND 89761)
Suggested track: Sunday Afternoon (featuring Carter on alto)
Official Benny Carter site
With comprehensive discography and biography
on radio 3
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