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Swing Music Net Biography
"The King" Benny Carter
Benny Carter photo later in his career
Benny Carter
Helped shape the music of
eight decades of jazz
Elegant, sophisticated, and well spoken; "The King" commanded respect personally and through his amazing playing and arranging
Benny Carter
Carter, Bennett Lester (Benny)
composer, leader, alto & tenor sax, trumpet, clarinet
Born; New York City, NY., 8-8-1907
Died; 7-12-2003
Benny Carter died Saturday, July 12th, 2003. He had been hospitalized for about two weeks with bronchitis and other health problems.

Benny Carter has been as admired as virtually any saxophonist in jazz. As a trumpeter, although he only occasionally played the instrument, he achieved a rich tone and had a highly personal and original style. He will forever be remembered as much for his composing skills as his playing. His compositions, which include When Lights Are Low (1936) and Blues in My Heart (1931), became jazz and big band standards.

While mainly a self-taught musician, Carter came from a musical family and studied piano with his mother and sister at 10 years old before receiving lessons from a private teacher for a year. He turned to the trumpet as an early teen but soon grew impatient and switched to saxophone. His early influences included the growl style trumpeter Bubber Miley and a cousin, trumpeter Cuban Bennett. Carter went to Wilberforce University to study theology but instead left to play with Horace Henderson’s Wilberforce Collegians. Carter worked briefly with Duke Ellington in the 1920s and in 1928 made his recording and arranging debut as a member of Charlie Johnson’s Orchestra. With no formal music education, he taught himself to arrange music on two of the orchestra’s recordings, Charleston Is the Best Dance After All and Easy Money. Later that year, he joined Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra and assumed arrangement duties. Other early affiliations included the bands of Chick Webb (1931), the Chocolate Dandies and McKinney’s Cotton Pickers.

By 1932 Carter, already greatly respected by fellow Jazzmen and now composing as well as playing and arranging, was able to launch his own band, which he kept together intermittently for the next couple of years. This early Carter aggregation disbanded in 1934 largely due to financial reasons. Important soloists in his regular band included Chu Berry, Sid Catlett, and Teddy Wilson among others. Carter also organized an all-star band for visiting British composer-critic Spike Hughes. It was a European connection that would soon mean much as Carter left the U.S. for France ending up in England as a staff arranger for Henry Hall’s BBC house radio band in 1936. Prior to leaving the U.S. however Carter made some memorable contributions as a sideman in Willie Bryant’s band playing trumpet.

Benny Carter left the U.S. for Paris in 1935 to join the Willie Lewis band on trumpet and alto before moving to England at the urgings of Leonard Feather to take the aforementioned BBC arranging job. Unfortunately, during this period Carter was only able to record as an instrumentalist sparingly due to musician union rules. In the summer of 1937 he played a season at a Dutch seaside resort leading a big interracial and international band, the first successful unit of its kind in jazz history. Before returning to the U.S. in 1938 he also spent time in Scandinavia and France, recording with Coleman Hawkins, Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grapelly and other American and European Jazzmen.

Carter nearly missed the Swing Era in the U.S. returning to New York amid much fanfare from Down Beat magazine in 1938. He soon re-formed a big band in which sidemen from time to time included Vic Dickenson, Eddie Heywood, Jonah Jones and Tyree Glenn. Carter also found work as soloist, composer and arranger on a number of Lionel Hampton all-star sides for Bluebird in the late 1930s. Among the gems recorded with Hampton were two Carter originals; When Lights Are Low with Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet and a star-studded tenor section of Chu Berry, Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster (1939), and a flag waver called I’m In The Mood For Swing that featured trumpet licks from Harry James along with Benny's alto saxophone (1938).

Late in 1941 Carter formed a short-lived sextet consisting of musicians like Dizzy Gillespie and Jimmy Hamilton. In late 1942 he formed another band in California employing from time to time, over the course of the next few years, the likes of J.J. Johnson, Max Roach, Buddy Rich, Snooky Young, Gerald Wiggins, Barney Bigard, Henry Coker, Miles Davis, Al Grey, and others. Benny Carter disbanded his big band in 1946, in part, because of his growing Hollywood career.

Benny Carter’s successful film scoring career got off to a good start in 1943 when he arranged the music for Busby Berkeley’s The Gangs All Here as well as Stormy Weather, an all black musical. In 1944, he appeared in MGM’s Thousands Cheer with Lena Horne. He went on to arrange music for An American in Paris, (1951) The Guns of Navarone, (1961) and was also seen and heard in other films like The Snow Of Kilimanjaro, (1952) and The View From Pompey’s Head. (1955) Other film assignments included The Five Pennies and The Gene Krupa Story both in 1959. Benny Carter composed and arranged music for 20 television series, including M Squad, (1957-60) Ironside, (1967-75) The Name of the Game (1968-71) and It Takes a Thief (1968-70). His success as one of the first black musicians to break into the lucrative film scoring market and, eventually to be credited for his work, opened the door for others.

By 1946 Benny Carter was living in Hollywood full time and writing more and more soundtracks for movies. Early in the year he was recording and doing live broadcasts with a big band and occasionally fronting a small group for club work. By spring many of his recordings were as a free-lance sideman and arranger and can be found on the Keynote, RCA, and Coral labels. These dates find "The King" backing such up and coming stars as Errrol Garner, Wardell Gray, Lucky Thompson, and Anita O' Day. Many tremendous loose and swinging affairs were recorded on Capitol Records in 1946 and '47 as well. CD's, with excellent sound quality, are available today which showcase Benny working with Red Norvo, Kay Starr, Peggy Lee, Julia Lee, and fronting various small groups with the likes of Arnold Ross and Sonny White on piano.

Carter continued to play and record in the 1950s. In the early ‘50s he switched to the Verve record label and toured with the Norman Granz traveling jazz show called “Jazz At The Philharmonic.” It was while affiliated with the Verve label in the 1950s that he was recorded with the Oscar Peterson Trio, Ben Webster, Art Tatum, Roy Eldridge, Teddy Wilson, Billie Holiday and others. His unmistakable alto can be heard on many of the M-Squad songs in the late 50’s; he participated on several Bobby Troup Stars Of Jazz sides; he played, arranged and composed for a large group on the Aspects release in 1959.

Benny Carter visited Australia in 1960 with his own quartet, performed at the 1968 Newport Jazz Festival with Dizzy Gillespie, and recorded with a Scandinavian band in Switzerland the same year. His studio work in the 1960s included arranging and sometimes performing on Peggy Lee’s Blues Cross Country, (1961) Sugar And Spice, (1961) Mink Jazz, (1962) and on the single I’m A Woman in the same year. He wrote several arrangements as recorded by Sarah Vaughan and he was nominated for a Grammy for his arrangement on the Ray Charles recording of Busted. He also recorded numerous highly swinging LPs with everything from quartets to larger big bands throughout the 1960s. Several 1950s and 1960’s releases to look for include; Further Definitions, B.B.B. & Co., Sax Ala Carter, and Additions To Further Definitions.

Even into the 1970s and 1980s Carter still had his chops; guest appearances took him to Europe, Japan, and the Near East during both decades. He was recorded in Montreux with Roy Eldridge, Clark Terry, Zoot Simms, Joe Pass and others in 1975. He recorded The King with Milt Jackson; Carter Gillespie Inc. with Dizzy Gillespie; Wonderland with another excellent small group, all in 1976. Mr. Carter was recorded live abroad numerous times into the 1980’s.

It was in the 1980’s that two especially incredible LP’s were recorded featuring “The King.” Carter was 78 years old when A Gentleman And His Music was recorded for Concord in 1985 featuring an all out jam with Scott Hamilton, Ed Bickert, Gene Harris, John Clayton, Joe Wilder and drummer Jimmie Smith on the cut Things Ain’t What They Used To Be. Two years later, at 80, he reunited with old pal Dizzy Gillespie for the 1987 Musicmasters release called I’m In The Mood For Swing.

In 1969, approached by a sociologist who felt he was not receiving recognition as one of the great contributors to jazz, Carter began lecturing at colleges. It was in 1992 that the last recordings issued under his name were made as leading a group called The Rutgers University Orchestra featuring Benny Powell, Loren Schoenberg, Frank Wess and others as recorded at Rutgers. The last recordings Benny Carter appeared on were as an alto man behind both Marlene Shaw and Bobby Short in 1995.

From jazz magazine polls to academic degrees; Carter received many awards and honors. Four institutions; Princeton (1974), Rutgers (1991), Harvard (1994), and the New England Conservatory (1998) have awarded him honorary doctorates.

He received a Lifetime Achievement award and two Grammys from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. His star may be found on Hollywood's legendary Walk of Fame.

In 1996, Carter received the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors. His achievements have been recognized by such organizations as ASCAP, the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the American Society of Arts and Letters. Carter's ninetieth birthday was celebrated on August 6, 1997 in a gala evening at the Hollywood Bowl. Characteristically, on August 8, his actual birthday, Carter gave a concert in Oslo, Norway.

The body of work this gentle giant left behind points to one of the most influential jazzmen in history. Although his alto playing brought him the most acclaim, his skill in composing and arranging straight ahead, swinging jazz music is unparalleled in history. The class, style, and mild mannered, humble demeanor of Benny Carter helped make a lady out of a once frowned upon and forbidden music, jazz.

Additional jazz biographies and photos are coming soon. Catch our live jazz radio show every Tuesday from 4-6PM Pacific on the jazz radio page where jazz that swings is still king.

Jazz Radio Audio
The live feed of our Tuesday jazz music radio show streaming online at 4:00 PM Pacific with a focus on the history of jazz music and jazz music that swings from the 1930s to today.

Our Jazz Radio Show Info Page
The sordid history of our jazz music radio show, est. 1985. Lends credence to the theory that FCC radio deregulation survival may be linked to narcissistically twisted disorders.

History Of Jazz Part 1
Early hot jazz bands, the hotel dance bands and the history of jazz music leading up to the Big Band era.

History Of Jazz Part II
The role of economics, early recording technology, and radio relative to jazz history and the Big Band era.

The Recording Ban Of 1942
Scans of a 1942 Down Beat magazine article detailing a dramatic event in jazz history during the Big Band era; the James Petrillo / AFM recording ban.

Webb Cuts Basie At The Savoy
Another of the many jazz magazine articles on the site detailing big events in jazz history. This piece recounts the Count Basie vs. Chick Webb big band music Battle Of Swing held at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom in January of 1938.

"Benny opened the eyes of a lot of producers and studios, so that they could understand that you could go to blacks for other things outside of blues and barbecue. He's a total musician. He was the pioneer, he was the foundation. He made it possible for that doubt tobe taken away."

Quincy Jones (in Benny Carter: Symphony in Riffs; a film by Harrison Engle, 1991)
Ray Charles Biography
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Barney Kessel Biography
The jazz guitar great died May 6th, 2004 and left behind a vast body of recorded jazz work.

Illinois Jacquet Biography
Illinois Jacquet cut his first sides as tenor man with Lionel Hampton’s newly formed big band in December of 1941. Six months later he supplied a high-spirited solo on Flying Home and a style was born.

Billy May Biography
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Count Basie Biography
Our biography of Count Basie traces the career of "the kid from Red Bank" through Kansas City and into the later stages of his life as a bandleader.

"The problem of expressing the contributions that Benny Carter has made to popular music is so tremendous it completely fazes me, so extraordinary
a musician is he."

Duke Ellington (Metronome, 11/43)
5-05 Jazz Joint Jump Radio Play
A full months worth of jazz radio air play from the Jazz Joint in May of 2005. Includes recording months, years, titles and record labels.

4-05 Jazz Joint Jump Radio Play
April's jazz radio playlists include artists, song and release titles, labels and dates. A miniature discography of jazz that swings as recorded in April.

3-05 Jazz Joint Jump Radio Play
March jazz radio playlists that include artists, song and release titles, and labels. Some dates are also included.

November 2003 Jazz Radio Play
Three weeks worth of swing radio playlists including topical music of, and recordings done in, the month of November throughout jazz history.

Swing Radio Air Play 10-04-03
An early autumn radio show with jazz music by Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Laverne Butler and more.

Big Band Radio Air Play 5-31-03
A Benny Goodman 5-30 birthday tribute; features on the Andy Kirk and Bobby Sherwood big bands; a Peggy Lee May birthday set.

Big Band Radio Air Play 5-24-03
Commemorates the occasion of Artie Shaw's 93rd Birthday.

Current Jazz Joint Jump Playlists
Click the link above to enter our Web Forum for playlists from December of 2005 to the present.

"So I looked at the band." "Now what you guys going to say? Ain't a goddam thing you can say. That's it and I ain't changing nothing. Ain't nobody going to tell me nothing about Benny Carter's writing. Sheet, get out of here. That's the way it goes or nothing goes."
"Benny Carter is a special kind of man, and he has been that kind of man for years. He's one of the all time great arrangers, and both as a musician and a person he has always had class. He is a hell of a bandleader when he wants to be. He is one of the all-time great alto men and also an excellent trumpet player. When you're talking about Benny Carter you're talking about a master arranger."

Count Basie
(in Good Morning Blues; Albert Murray and Count Basie Ent., 1985)
"You got Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and my man, the Earl of Hines, right? Well, Benny's right up there with all them cats. Everybody that knows who he is calls him 'King.' He is a king!"

Louis Armstrong (in A Call To Assembly by Willie Ruff; Viking, 1991)
Jazz radio host Jeff Parker with Nipper
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