Recorded in Los Angeles June 11, July 22, October 7, 1957 & April 21, 1958
Benny Carter had already been a major jazz musician for nearly 30 years when he recorded this particularly strong septet session for Contemporary. With notable contributions from tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, trombonist Frank Rosolino and guitarist Barney Kessel, Carter (who plays a bit of trumpet on "How Can You Lose") is in superb form on a set of five standards and two of his originals. This timeless music is beyond the simple categories of "swing" or "bop" and should just be called "classic."
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
In most cases, the title of this album would be a form of hyperbole more apposite to political conventions. That the title is accurate for Benny Carter, however, has been recognized, even taken for granted, for some thirty years. The basic point of this album, however, is that Benny is of Brobdingnagian size now as well as in the discographies and in memories. The point has been there to be made on record for a long time, but it is astonishing to realize that in the ten years of the LP flood - during which scores of medium-size players and not a few Lilliputians have had several jazz albums of their own - there is very little Benny Carter jazz on LP. He has, to be sure, made a few albums under his own name - they have presented an effectively lyrical side of Benny, but far from his whole story. This is the first all-jazz, hot, small combo blowing album under Benny Carter's name. It is this set that accordingly underlines a quality of Carter that is much more central to his musical being than the "elegance" and "urbanity" that have been overdone in descriptions of his work for too long. The man is a hot player; he has a drive, a passion in his jazz. Of course, he is a player of unusual musical knowledge and capacity who does improvise with a logic and compositional sense that few other jazzmen have equalled. He is also a sophisticated player in the strongest connotation of that word. There is no axiom, after all, that passion must diminish with sophistication. It's often increased, in fact, when you know exactly how to express what you feel. Witness Hindu love manuals, for one example, or Alban Berg. Another point this album makes is Benny's constant actiwe contemporaneity. Like Mary Lou Williams and Coleman Hawkins, he has continued to listen and to absorb what he felt worth absorbing from the changes in the jazz language -while remaining entirely himself. He is a "giant" in that sense too. You know Carter as soon as you hear him. His is a style, a sound that is well described in his own appreciation of Ben Webster: "Ir's a pleasure to hear a guy like Ben Webster. He blows a note and you know he's there - and who he is."
Hearing Benny in this free context may also remind many of how influential a figure he is. As a player, he was one of the first virtuosi to cover all of the horn and at very demanding tempos. And he covered it so fully in order to say more not just to air his technique. He's always done this with a flow and poise which caused "Cannonball" Adderley to say recently: "Benny could and can play as many notes as anyone, but he makes it look so easy. Some of the younger players make it look hard, and therefore, spectacular."
There has been a remarkably consistent quality of melodic imagination in Carter's work. He has a love for melody that can enliven it, make it swing, and even transmute it and still retain respect for it. There is just beginning again in jazz -principally in the work of Sonny Rollins - a concern with extended themaric improvisation. I think this concern will grow, and the present preoccupation with improvising so much on chords rather than developing thematic structures will diminish. In this respect, Carter's work as an improviser who invented thematically will gain renewed attention.
Carter's influence has been important as a band leader. During the Thirties and Forties, a musician achieved increased respect with his colleagues if he had been in a Carter band. The records these Carter bands have made are also due for re-examinarion when and if there is some freshness and invention again in the approach by leaders and writers to big bands. I think, too, that there will come in time a re-evaluation by some of the younger players with regard to tone. There are various and often complex emotional as well as musical reasons why so many of the younger altoists have chosen to emulate the angriest and most anguished manifestations of Charlie Parker's tone and there are other reasons why others for a time found it necessary to speak as if to themselves. This latter fashion for mumbling is falling fast, and the former, too, will yield to a realization that fulness and even at times roundness of tone is not a deterrent to the communication of passion, certain kinds of passion anyway. In this area too, the clariry, srrength and virile lyricism made possible by Carter's tone are worth increased anention.
Benny's biography is available in various reference books and in wo thoughtful articles (Benny Carter by Nesuhi Ertegun in the May 1948 Record Changer; and Benny Carter - A Study In Elegance by Charles Fox in the March, 1955 Jazz Monthly of England). Briefly, he was born in New York, August 8, 1907; was influenced and encouraged in his early teens by Bubber Miley; worked with several eastern bands, being further influenced by his cousin, Cuban Bennen, one of che few trumpet players of that time to improvise fluently on chord changes.
Benny went to Wilberforce, but never attended classes, leaving instead with Horace Henderson's Wilberforce Collegians. In the years after, he worked with, among others, Fletcher Henderson, Chick Webb, McKinney's Cotton Pickers, and bands of his own. Carter was abroad from 1935-58 and for a year of that time, was an arranger at the BBC. On his return, he continued forming bands of his own and writing -superior popular songs, arrangements and original instrumentals. In this decade, he continues to be based in Los Angeles, a free-lance conductor and writer for several media, including films (in which he occasionally appears). One of his scores, the music for John Hubley's short, Harlem Wednesday, recently won an award at the Venice film festival. Benny has also been an unyielding force in fighting the "separate local" system in the AFM, with particular success in Los Angeles.
He's also begun playing jazz more often, particularly because he was so stimulated by the experience of making this album. It's to be hoped too that he'll continue on the trumpet now that he's recorded it in this kind of jazz setting for the first time in a long while. Benny plays several other instruments well and could have been, I've always felt, one of the most personal and imaginative of jazz clarinetists.
The opening old fashioned love, as all the performances here, illustrates a Carter credo: "The most essential thing is the beat. If you lose the beat, it isn't jazz. It should always be danceable." Benny's trumpet is heard on I'm Coming Virginia, indicating his long, singing line on that inscrument too. The Ben Webster solo is practically a distillation of Webster's contribution co jazz ballad remaking - as perfect and personal a jazz statement as I've heard.
Carter's A Walkin' Thing is appropriately begun by Leroy Vinnegar (c. f. Leroy Walks! Contemporary S7542). It moves throughout at a relaxed but strong pulsation, establishing a full, rolling groove that proves yet again there's more real power in what comes naturally chan in any number of fff convulsions. Note the added dry comments via Mr. Marine's fingers toward the close.
Barney Kessel in Blae Loa - and everywhere else in the album - demonstrates that he coo blows a note so that you know he's there - and who he is. In Ain't She Sweet, there's another occasional characteristic that isn't always cited in descriptions of his work - his delight in the play of playing, a light-hearced enjoyment of being able to express immediately what he invents, and a wit chat is quick and accurate.
Benny's How Cue You Lose is more earthy, and I would call your attention to what strikes me as one of the most gurbucket solos Frank Rosolino has yet recorded. The date marked the first time Benny had recorded with Rosolino. "He amazes me," Benny said, "with the impossible things he does on his instrument and with his inventiveness. Just as JJ. does." The concluding Blues My Naughty Swueetie Gives to Me moves with a crisp, swinging drive.
Drive, heat, the power and passion of logical invention -these are the qualities that are Benny Carter in this album. It's because they're there that he is so large a musician and this is one album not likely to be lost in the Rood. It's been a long time coming, but it's also going to be played a long time. Benny's kind of statement doesn't disintegrate with changes in trends and styles. What he has said remains fresh and alive with emotional meaning for now as well as for the time in which he said it - and that perhaps is the essence of a jazz "giant." But with Benny, the same can also be said of his work as you hear this - now.
- Nat Hentoff (Sept. 6, 1958)