Benny Carter - alto sax; Harry "Sweets" Edison - trumpet; Taft Jordan - trumpet; Carl Warwick - trumpet; Joe Thomas - trumpet; Tyree Glenn - trombone; Quentin Jackson - trombone; Benny Morton - trombone; Dicky Wells - trombone; Barry Carter - saxophone; Earle Warren - alto saxophone; Howard Johnson - baritone saxophone; Buddy Tate - tenor saxophone; Budd Johnson - tenor saxophone, clarinet; Heywood Henry - baritone saxophone; Teddy Wilson - piano; Bernard Addison - guitar; Milton Hinton - bass; Jo Jones - drums
For the Newport Jazz Festival's inaugural year in New York City, impresario George Wein booked several one-of-a-kind gigs over the course of an expanded nine-day schedule. One of those special occasion gigs took place at Carnegie Hall on a program billed as "Swing Lives," featuring the Count Basie Orchestra and the Benny Carter Swing Masters. As alto saxophonist, composer, arranger, and bandleader, Carter fronted a band of Swing era stalwarts including former Chick Webb trumpeter Taft Jordan, former Basie-ites like trombonists Dicky Wells and Benny Morton, trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison, tenor saxophonist Buddy Tate, alto saxophonist Earle Warren, and other masters of the idiom.
They come out swinging in full force, propelled by Papa Jo Jones' signature hi-hat beat on a lively rendition of Fats Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose." Everybody gets a solo taste here, just to warm up the fingers and get the crowd jumping. Carter, one of the most influential alto sax figures (alongside Johnny Hodges) during the Swing era leading up to the emergence of Charlie Parker and bebop in the mid-'40s, kicks things off with a typically fluent and warm toned solo. He is followed in short order with similarly ebullient solos by trombonist Wells, tenor saxophonist Johnson, and trumpeter Edison. Former Benny Goodman pianist Teddy Wilson heads into some effervescent stride playing during his masterful solo. He is followed by a robust and raucous clarinet solo by Budd Johnson and a smooth swinging trombone solo by former Duke Ellington sideman Quentin "Butter" Jackson and former Cab Calloway trombonist Tryree Glenn. Milt Hinton follows with an unamplified upright bass solo that nearly brings down the house, as rhythm guitarist Bernard Addison and drummer Jones bring the dynamic level down to a hush so everyone can savor every note.
Next up is Carter's "Doozy" (introduced on Carter's classic 1961 masterpiece, Further Definitions on Impulse). This variation on a 12-bar blues carries an upbeat swing feel from the outset due to Jones' infectious hi-hat work and Wilson's bubbly piano intro. The horn section jumps onto the main theme with a touch of swagger, kicking off a succession of urgent solos by trombonist Wells, tenorman Tate, trombonist Glenn, tenorman Johnson, and trumpeter Edison. The rhythm section again then drops down a whisper to give Hinton some room to stretch on his solo, which culminates with some aggressive slapping. And they take it out in spirited, swinging fashion on the jaunty theme.
"Blues for Beginners" kicks off with Hinton's loping bass lines as Carter offers some humorous asides to the crowd. From there, it's an earthy blues jam which settles into a place somewhere between Gershwin's "It Ain't Necessarily So" and Ellington's "Things Ain't What They Used to Be." Carter testifies on his alto solo here, and he is followed by similarly spirited, blues-drenched solos from trombonist Wells, tenor saxophonist Tate, and trumpeter Edison. They close their Carnegie Hall set with an energetic "Jukebox," a gorgeous rendition of "I Can't Get Started," a feature for Carter's beautiful alto tone and fertile imagination (dig his inventive cadenza at the tag), and rousing big band finale "Sleep," which features a dynamic, extended solo from drumming great Papa Jo Jones.
Born on in New York on August 8, 1907, Benny Carter performed for eight decades, garnering accolades along the way for his influential alto sax playing, his potent writing, and accomplished arranging for big band and orchestra. A pioneer in Hollywood, Carter was the first African American to score major films (including Stormy Weather, Flower Drum Song, and Buck and the Preacher) and television shows (including Mod Squad). A major figure in jazz from the 1930s to the 1990s, Carter was named a Jazz Master in 1986 by the National Endowment for the Arts and was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 1987. Early on in his career, Carter worked as a sideman for such jazz greats as cornetist Rex Stewart, clarinetist-soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet, and pianists Earl Hines, Willie "The Lion" Smith, Fats Waller, and James P. Johnson. He first recorded in 1928 with Charlie Johnson's Orchestra and played with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra in 1930 and 1931. He briefly led the Detroit-based McKinney's Cotton Pickers before forming his own small group in 1932, which included pianist Teddy Wilson, tenor saxophonist Chu Berry, trombonist Dicky Wells, and drummer Sid Catlett. He also arranged for Duke Ellington's orchestra during the early 1930s while also doubling on trumpet for some sessions.
Carter's first big band recorded for the Columbia, Vocalion, and Okeh labels, sometimes under the name Chocolate Dandies. He moved to Europe in 1935 to play and record with the top British, French, and Scandinavian bands. It was during this period that he first encountered the great Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, famously recording "Honeysuckle Rose" with him on an all-star session that also included tenor sax great Coleman Hawkins. (Carter and Hawkins would reprise the tune on 1961's Further Definitions.) Upon returning to the States in 1938, Carter secured arrangement work recordings by Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, Gene Krupa, and Tommy Dorsey. He also scored a hit during the 1930s with his jivey composition with "Cow Cow Boogie," a feature for singer Ella Mae Morse with Freddie Slack's band. In 1943, Carter relocated to Los Angeles, where he began to get involved with studio work, writing music for dozens of films and television shows. He became active on the jazz scene again in the '60s, touring with a quartet and appearing at the 1968 Newport Jazz Festival with Dizzy Gillespie. He returned to the jazz scene on a full-time basis in the mid-'70s and was the featured composer-performer on 1987's Central City Sketches by John Lewis and the American Jazz Orchestra. Remarkably, Carter continued to perform through the '90s (his last recording was 1997's New York Nights, recorded at age 87. Carter died on July 12, 2003, at age 95. (Milkowski)