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Night Lights Classic Jazz

The King At Midpoint: Benny Carter

Carter wrote jazz standards, mastered two instruments, opened doors for black composers in Hollywood, and served as a mentor to many young jazz musicians.

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Benny Carter

Photo: William Gottlieb/Library of Congress

Carter in a contemplative moment at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, 1946.

Benny CarterBenny Carter led an extraordinarily long life in jazz; as his biographer pointed out, he was probably the only musician who both recorded into an acoustic horn and surfed his own website. Big-band veteran and arranger, author of jazz standards such as “When Lights Are Low” and “Blues in My Heart,” pioneer for black composers in Hollywood, master of two instruments (alto sax and trumpet), and inspiration and mentor to many young jazz musicians, Carter came to be known as “the King.”

Carter died at the age of 95 in July of 2003, having recorded and performed well into his 80s. This week on Night Lights we’ll feature music from the middle of his career, including records he made with pianists Oscar Peterson, Teddy Wilson, and Art Tatum; his 1946 big band; songs he wrote and either arranged or performed on for vocalists Julia Lee and Sarah Vaughan; and music that he scored for film and television.

Watch Benny Carter in 1966 performing “I Can’t Get Started”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zx1TgPwrlDE

Watch Benny Carter with his big band (and a certain special guest trio!):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uX9dQKu9zUM

Update: worthwhile reflections on Carter from Doug Ramsey (with a followup) and Marc Myers.

Music Heard On This Episode

The Song Is You
Benny Carter — Cosmopolite: the Oscar Peterson Verve Sessions (Verve, 1954)
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The Song Is You
Benny Carter — Cosmopolite: the Oscar Peterson Verve Sessions (Verve, 1954)

Notes: Oscar Peterson on piano, Herb Ellis on guitar, Ray Brown on bass, Buddy Rich on drums.

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Malibu
Benny Carter — They All Had Rhythm (Hep, 1946)

Notes: Benny Carter composition.

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Jump Call
Benny Carter — Groovin' High (Hep, 1946)

Notes: Benny Carter composition. Miles Davis on trumpet.

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This Love of Mine
Teddy Wilson/Benny Carter — 3, 4, 5: the Small-Group Sessions (Verve, 1954)
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Key Largo
Benny Carter — New Jazz Sounds: the Urbane Sessions (Verve, 1952)

Notes: Co-written by Benny Carter.

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Blues in C
Art Tatum — Group Masterpieces V. 1 (Pablo, 1954)

Notes: With Benny Carter on alto sax.

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Moon Of Manakoora
Benny Carter — Sax a la Carter (Capitol, 1960)

Notes: Midpoint music bed.

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King Size Papa
Julia Lee — Kansas City Star (Bear Family, 1947)

Notes: Song co-written by Benny Carter, who plays alto sax.

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Friendless
Sarah Vaughan — The Lonely Hours (Roulette, 1963)

Notes: Song written by Benny Carter, who also arranged & conducted. Also available on the Mosaic Sarah Vaughan set COMP. ROULETTE STUDIO SESSIONS.

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The Search
Stanley Wilson — Music from M Squad (Collectables/RCA, 1959)

Notes: Written by Benny Carter, who plays alto sax.

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Harlem Wednesday
Benny Carter — Journey to Next (Lightyear Entertainment, 1956)

Notes: Soundtrack for a John Hubley animated jazz film.

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Blue Star
Benny Carter — Further Definitions (Impulse, 1962)

Notes: Benny Carter composition.

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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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  • http://www.tedoreilly.com Ted O’Reilly

    David, I realize you’re quoting someone else, but it’s unlikely Benny Carter ever “recorded into an acoustic horn”. The earliest B.C. recording I’ve ever run across was with Charlie Johnson’s band in early 1927 for Victor, in NYC. It was an electrical recording…

  • http://nightlights.blogs.wfiu.org/ David J.

    Ted, Ed Berger (Benny Carter biographer) has cleared up the mystery. He writes:

    Benny did make an acoustical recording in 1924 or 1925 with singer Clara Smith (Benny’s first recording). He remembered this event quite clearly. Unfortunately he was unable to recall precisely which title(s) he was on, as several of these are listed with uncertain personnel. We played many of these recordings for him but nothing leaped out. It’s also possible that the sides were never issued.

    David J.

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