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A phenomenal survivor from the age of swing

Benny Carter truly was a gentleman in his music, not just a gentleman who made music

Benny Carter: A Gentleman and His Music
Concord Jazz
Music Gallery India Pvt Ltd,
House of Lords, No 8,
St Mark's Road,
Bangalore-560 001
Rs 600 (CD)

Benny Carter, chiefly an alto saxophonist but also an accomplished trumpeter, pianist, composer of famous jazz standards and of music for films, and jazz educator, survived the be-bop hurricane to demonstrate that swing was alive and well (and lively) into the '80s.

Born in 1907, he still had albums of his music coming out in 1992. His warm tone and ability to improvise stood him in good stead after be-bop raised the threshold for that aspect of jazz. He has continued to rank among the greatest alto saxophonists through the heyday of modern jazz.

Like all true jazz musicians, he couldn't be dulled by age. Here we find him at 78 (in 1985) leading younger talents in a brilliant display of the best aspects of swing surviving be-bop and hard bop. The supporting cast includes Scott Hamilton on tenor sax and Joe Wilder on trumpet/ flugelhorn, with Ed Bickert (guitar), Gene Harris (piano), John Clayton (bass) and Jimmie Smith (drums) making up the rhythm section.

Carter had a liking for slower, romantic numbers such as ballads. It comes through here in his own composition A kiss from you, the famous jazz standard Lover man and the tribute Blues for George to the bassist George Duvivier, who had died recently. He also liked improvising or revamping the basic melody, as we see in the intro to the lively Duke Ellington favourite Things ain't what they used to be, and the unusual treatment of the theme in the fairly brisk Sometimes I'm happy. Even faster-paced, the swinging closing piece Idaho has a series of solos by Carter, Wilder, Hamilton, Harris and Smith, the last punctuated with alternating solo breaks from trumpet, tenor sax, guitar, piano and bass.

Every number opens with a different instrument taking the lead. Blues for George, perhaps naturally, has a bass intro, Lover man leads with the trumpet, Sometimes I'm happy with the piano, A kiss from you has a guitar intro. Every piece has a series of solos from most members of the band, a structure characteristic of be-bop and hard bop, but unlike in these genres there is more variety in the number and order of solos. Carter's own solos stand out for their emotion, but all the soloists are steeped in the best traditions of improvisational swing jazz. Above all, one instinctively feels that Benny Carter truly was a gentleman in his music, not just a gentleman who made music.


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