October 22, 2007

LONG LIVE THE KING:

Benny Carter Centennial: Jazz Master’s Signature, Written in Sax and Brass (BEN RATLIFF, 10/22/07, NY Times)

It was fitting then that no single musician ran away with Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Friday night concert at Rose Theater, based around Carter’s music, this year’s season-opening program. (Carter was born in 1907, and this is his centennial year.) If there was a star, it was a whole bloc within a band: the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s saxophone section, playing the tightly harmonized passages that were among Carter’s signatures.

Carter’s arrangement of “All of Me,” from 1940, is a good example. After an introduction, it began with the four saxophonists playing two choruses of harmonized lockstep, running a rewritten version of the melody through the chords, and it had everything an individual solo can have: melodic shape, hesitation, easy swing, double-timing, open space. The same thing happened again, at the same level of execution, in “I Can’t Escape From You.” It was demanding music, beautifully coordinated.


I went on Friday night (they repeated it Saturday), and it was a great show.

Ratliff is right that the group highlight of the evening were the harmonized sax passages in “All of Me” and “I Can’t Escape from You.” But the solo highlight was Ted Nash’s interpretation on flute of Carter’s haunting “People Time.”

Ratliff is also right about the séance feeling. I went to the rehearsal on Wednesday, and while the band was playing I had the feeling that Benny was going to walk in the room at any moment. I spoke to some of the musicians after the concert who knew Benny, and they also commented that they felt like he was in the room.

MORE:
Lincoln Center Gets Carter (WILL FRIEDWALD, October 22, 2007, NY Sun)

It won't do to describe Benny Carter as a multi-instrumentalist. Even though he may have been the only major jazzman who was equally fluent on saxophone and trumpet, everything he did outside the realm of the saxophone was, if not exactly superfluous, then certainly secondary. You could take away everything else he ever did (and it was plenty), and the equation of his greatness, both as a player and an orchestrator, remains unchanged.

In fact, I'm almost peeved that the central image of Carter (1907-2003) in his placement in the Nesuhi Ertegun Hall of Fame at Jazz at Lincoln Center is of the subject playing trumpet (it must have something to do with a pro-brass bias on the part of JALC's artistic director, Wynton Marsalis). Yet JALC has more than made up for this questionable decision, first by electing the native of Harlem to its Hall of Fame and second by honoring him with an excellent concert on Friday and Saturday.


Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at October 22, 2007 9:59 AM
Comments

The documentary on Benny Carter, SYMPHONY IN RIFFS with Extra photos by ED BERGER is now available on a New Expanded DVD thru www.rhapsodyfilms.com

Posted by Bruce Ricker, jazz filmmaker( THE LAST OF THE BLUE DEVILS and TONY BENNETT: THE MUSIC NEVER ENDS )

Posted by: b at October 22, 2007 1:38 PM

In about '97 or '98 I saw Benny Carter play live in Thompson Square Park in NYC. The occasion was, I believe, Charlie Parker's birthday (Carter apparently taught Parker for a while, or personally influenced him in some other way).

In any case, it was the first time I heard anybody play saxophone like that live, with an old-fashioned pre-bop tone and light, graceful swinging style. He sounded great. I couldn't believe how old they said he was.

Posted by: Twn at October 22, 2007 1:52 PM

Bruce - thanks for the post....I loved Last of the Blue Devils (and now will look for your Tony Bennett film).

Twn - Yes, Benny's playing through his 90th birthday was extraordinary. Physical problems were catching up to him then, so he didn't practice much. As a result, if you caught him on the first night of 4-night gig, you might not be too impressed...but by the second set of the second night, his chops would come back and you were in for a real treat. Unfortunately, he stopped performing in the spring of 1998...but he kept composing and arranging until his last days.

Posted by: Foos at October 22, 2007 6:18 PM
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