Recorded at Radio Recorders, january 18&19 1960
arranged adn conducted by Johnny Richards
The veteran tenor Ben Webster had a very warm tone on ballads that contrasted with the aggressive biting sound he used on faster material. For this 1960 set Webster is joined by a string quartet (arranged by Johnny Richards) and a rhythm section for his melodic interpretations of a dozen standards. Even when simply stating the melody, Webster brings out unexpected beauty in the songs. His tone has never been accurately duplicated and is the main reason to pick up this CD reissue.
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
As his playing indicates, even if you have never met the man, Ben Webster is a large, passionate jazz musician with great pride in his calling. Ben is capable of many forms of intensity, including explosive anger, but he is particularly prone to long bouts of extraordinary tenderness. Ben is accordingly a superior player of ballads as this album demonstrates with especial consistency. Unlike many of the younger jazzmen who seem afraid or embarrassed to reveal their more vulnerable fantasies and memories, Webster personalizes ballads with as much virility and power as he does the stampers. Ben, moreover, has lived and traveled a good many years. He's paid a lot of dues, and is still paying. When he plays a ballad, therefore, he gives the listener the distilled experience of one of the last American frontiersmen, the itinerant jazzman.
Webster has a number of vibrant virtues as a musician, and they all coalesce with most effect on ballads. There is his large, enormously warm tone. There is also his deeply flowing beat which is as pulsatingly relaxed (but not flaccid) in the slowest numbers as in the more rocking "Time After Time" and "I'm Beginning To See The Light." A third characteristic is his thoroughly individual style - phrasing as well as sound. He can even take "The Sweetheart Of Sigma Chi" and "The Whiffenpoof Song," strip them of all conflicting past connotations, and make them fit as naturally into this litany of love as the remarkably graceful "It Was So Beautiful."
There is yet a further reason for Ben Webster's mastery of ballads. Like the late Lester Young (who was also able to make even the most familiar standard suddenly new) Ben Webster has a great affection for and interest in the better singers. Several of his ideas for repertory have come from a vocalist's interpretation of a particular song. Like Young, Ben is also aware of lyrics and knows what the intent and particular mood of each song is before he begins to improvise on it. I was listening to this album with a jazz singer who grew up on the work of Young and Webster. "It's amazing," she said during the playing of "But Beautiful." "He breathes whenever I would breathe. It's as if he were singing the song."
I haven't yet mentioned Webster's sense of melodic continuity, his capacity to sustain and burnish a mood, and his expressive combination of strength and soft lyricism. Essentially, however, Ben's enveloping warmth is at the core of his unique power. Moreover, I've rarely known a man who loved music as fully and ceaselessly as Ben. It sounds corny or naive, but to Ben - as to drummer Jo Jones - it is a privilege to play. He feels a great responsibility to jazz and his place in it. I remember one night when he was goaded beyond endurance by a bore at an after-hours party. Ben was about to swing, but then dropped his hand, and pointed to his instrument case, "No," he was talking to himself. "I've got to save it. It's all got to go in there." It goes in, and comes out in such durable pleasures as this album.
- Nat Hentoff (1961)