Ben Webster Quartet
Recorded in London, January 1967.
All Music Guide
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The great box-like figure and slow rolling walk of Ben Webster have become familiar sights in European cities since 1965, when he settled - gradually but apparently permanently - into life on this side of the Atlantic (at the time of writing, late 1967, he regards Amsterdam as his base).
The sound of his tenor saxophone, though, sometimes hot and hoarse, increasingly often a stream of tuned puffs of wind, has been known to European jazz record collectors a good deal longer. Ben Webster came to prominence, slipping out from the shadow of Coleman Hawkins, so to speak, during his comparatively short stay with Duke Ellington in 1939-43. He was in his early thirties then, and had already worked with Bennie Moten, Benny Carter, Fletcher Henderson and many others; there had also been an intermittent association with the Ellington orchestra from as far back as 1935.
Ben's particular contribution to the art of the tenor saxophone is - as hinted above - a curiously breathy attack, in which he seems to be blowing round the mouthpiece rather than through it; a sound that Humphrey Lyttleton on BBC's 'Jazz Scene' one night referred to as 'Ben's breathalyser technique'. You can get a very clear idea of this and some of Ben Webster's other characteristics on this record, made in London in January 1967.
To back him on all but two of the tracks Dick Katz, well known once to most listeners as a member of the Ray Ellington Quartet, was dragged from behind his agency desk and sat at the piano, to produce splendid, rolling two-handed stuff of a kind we could do with more often. Spike Heatley, one of the best in Britain, is on bass, Tony Crombie is on drums. My one and only love, Where of when, and Remember have the distinctive organ sound of Alan Haven. As with almost any Ben Webster set you're likely to encounter in the flesh, there's a strong tincture of Ellington about the repertoire: Just a-sittin' and a-rockin' was originally titled Swee'pea, Duke's nickname for his late lieutenant Billy Strayhorn, when it was first recorded in 1941; Jeep is jumpin' is a reference to one of the many pet names for Johnny Hodges; Solitude, the tune of which was written in 1934, is possibly the widest known of Duke's compositions outside jazz circles.
Most of the rest of the material is made up of popular standards. The Jimmy McHugh-Dorothy Fields number Exactly like you is from a 1930 New York show called 'International Revue'. Of the two Irving Berlin tunes How deep is the ocean? dates from 1932; Remember is even older than that - 1925. Fats Waller and Andy Razaf wrote Honeysuckle rose in 1929, since when it has just conceivably been played by more jazz musicians of more various styles than any other tune. In the middle and late thirties no jam session sounded right without it. Richard Rodgers tune, Where or when, with Lorenz Hart's words are from the 1937 musical 'Babes in Arms'. Harry Barris (of The Rhythm Boys) and Ted Koehler wrote Wrap your troubles in dreams, which has one of the most 'yearning' middle eights of all popular songs, in 1931.
- Charles Middleton