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|Birth name||Benjamin Francis Webster|
|Also known as||"The Brute", "Frog"|
|Born||March 27, 1909|
|Origin||Kansas City, Missouri, United States|
|Died||September 20, 1973
|Associated acts||Coleman Hawkins, Oscar Peterson, Duke Ellington|
Benjamin Francis Webster (March 27, 1909 – September 20, 1973), a.k.a. "The Brute" or "Frog", was an influential American jazz tenor saxophonist. Webster, born in Kansas City, Missouri, is considered one of the three most important "swing tenors" along with Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. Known affectionately as "The Brute", he had a tough, raspy, and brutal tone on stomps (with his own distinctive growls), yet on ballads he played with warmth and sentiment. Stylistically he was indebted to alto star Johnny Hodges, who, he said, taught him to play his instrument.
Early life and career
Webster learned to play piano and violin at an early age, before learning to play the saxophone, although he did return to the piano from time to time, even recording on the instrument occasionally. Once Budd Johnson showed him some basics on the saxophone, Webster began to play that instrument in the Young Family Band (which at the time included Lester Young). Kansas City at this point was a melting pot from which emerged some of the biggest names in 1930s jazz, and Webster joined Bennie Moten's legendary 1932 band that included Count Basie, Oran "Hot Lips" Page and Walter Page. This era has been recreated in Robert Altman's film Kansas City.
Webster spent time with quite a few orchestras in the 1930s, including Andy Kirk, the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra in 1934, then Benny Carter, Willie Bryant, Cab Calloway, and the short-lived Teddy Wilson big band.
Playing with Duke Ellington's orchestra for the first time in 1935, by 1940 Ben Webster had become its first major tenor soloist. He credited Johnny Hodges, Ellington's alto soloist, as a major influence on his playing. During the next three years he was on many famous recordings, including "Cotton Tail" and "All Too Soon"; his contribution (together with that of bassist Jimmy Blanton) was so important that Ellington's orchestra during that period is known as the Blanton–Webster band. Webster left the band in 1943 after an angry altercation, during which he allegedly cut up one of Ellington's suits.. In an interview with the Newark Star-Ledger in 2003, trumpeter Clark Terry claimed that Webster left Ellington because he slapped Duke, and was subsequently given his two-weeks notice.
After leaving Ellington in 1943, Webster worked on 52nd Street in New York City; recorded frequently as both a leader and a sideman; had short periods with Raymond Scott, John Kirby, and Sid Catlett, as well as with Jay McShann's band, which also featured blues shouter Jimmy Witherspoon. In 1948 he returned briefly to the Ellington orchestra for a few months.
In 1953 he recorded King of the Tenors with pianist Oscar Peterson, who would be an important collaborator for Webster throughout the decade. Along with Peterson, trumpeter Harry 'Sweets' Edison and others he was by now touring and recording with Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic organisation. Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster with fellow tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins was recorded on December 16, 1957 along with Peterson, Herb Ellis (guitar), Ray Brown (bass), and Alvin Stoller (drums). The Hawkins and Webster recording is a jazz classic, the coming together of two giants of the tenor saxophone, who had first met back in Kansas City.
In the late 1950s he formed a quintet with Gerry Mulligan and played frequently at a Los Angeles club called Renaissance. It was there that the Webster-Mulligan group backed up blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon on an album recorded live. <Bob Porter, "Portraits in Blue," broadcast August 2, 2014 on WBGO radio.ref>
The final decade, in Europe
Webster generally worked steadily but in 1964 he moved permanently to join other American jazz musicians in Europe, where he played when he pleased during his last decade. He lived in London for one year, followed by four years in Amsterdam and made his last home in Copenhagen in 1969. Webster appeared as a sax player in a low-rent cabaret club in the 1970 Danish blue film titled Quiet Days in Clichy. In 1971 Webster reunited with Duke Ellington and his big band for a couple of shows at the Tivoli Gardens in Denmark and he recorded "live" in France with Earl Hines. He also recorded or performed with Buck Clayton, Bill Coleman and Teddy Wilson.
Webster suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in Amsterdam in September 1973, following a performance at the Twee Spieghels in Leiden, and died on the 20th. His body was cremated in Copenhagen and his ashes were buried in the Assistens Cemetery in the Nørrebro section of the city. Although not all that flexible or modern, remaining rooted in the blues and swing-era ballads, Webster could swing with the best and his tone was a later influence on such diverse players as Archie Shepp, Lew Tabackin, Scott Hamilton, David Murray, and Bennie Wallace.
After Webster's death, Billy Moore Jr. created the Ben Webster Foundation, together with the trustee of Webster's estate. Since Webster's only legal heir, Harley Robinson in Los Angeles, gladly assigned his rights to the foundation, the Ben Webster Foundation was confirmed by the Queen of Denmark's Seal in 1976. In the Foundation's trust deed, one of the initial paragraphs reads: "to support the dissemination of jazz in Denmark".
It is a beneficial foundation, which channels Webster's annual royalties to musicians, both in Denmark and the U.S. An annual Ben Webster Prize is awarded to a young outstanding musician. The prize is not large, but considered highly prestigious. Over the years, several American musicians have visited Denmark with the help of the Foundation, and concerts, a few recordings, and other jazz-related events have been supported.
Webster's private collection of jazz recordings and memorabilia is archived in the jazz collections at the University Library of Southern Denmark, Odense.
Ben Webster has a street named after him in southern Copenhagen, "Ben Websters Vej".
- King of the Tenors (Verve, 1953)
- 1953: An Exceptional Encounter Live recording (1953)
- Music for Loving (Norgran, 1955), and Music with Feeling (Norgran, 1955) – now issued on one CD as Ben Webster with Strings
- Soulville (Verve, 1957)
- Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster (Verve, 1957)
- The Soul of Ben Webster (Verve, 1958)
- Ben Webster and Associates (Verve, 1959)
- Gerry Mulligan Meets Ben Webster (Verve, 1959)
- Ben Webster Meets Oscar Peterson (Verve, 1959)
- Ben Webster at the Renaissance (Contemporary, 1960)
- The Warm Moods (Reprise, 1961)
- Ben and "Sweets" (with Harry Edison) (Columbia, 1962)
- Soulmates (with Joe Zawinul) (Riverside, 1963)
- See You at the Fair (Impulse!, 1964)
- Live at The Jazzhus Montmartre (1965) there are two volumes, and a compilation called Stormy Weather.
- Gone With the Wind (1965)
- Meets Bill Coleman (Black Lion, 1967)
- Big Ben Time (Ben Webster in London 1967) (Philips, 1968)
- Ben Webster Plays Ballads (recordings from Danish Radio 1967-1971) (Storyville, 1988 - SLP 4118)
- Webster's Dictionary (1970)
- Autumn Leaves (with Georges Arvanitas trio) (Futura Swing 05, 1972) http://futuramarge.free.fr
- Gentle Ben (with Tete Montoliu Trio) (Ensayo, 1973)
As a sideman
With Duke Ellington
- Never No Lament: The Blanton-Webster Band (RCA, 1938–1942)
With Dizzy Gillespie
- The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (Bluebird, 1937-1949 )
With Lionel Hampton
- You Better Know It!!! (Impulse, 1965)
With Mundell Lowe
- Porgy & Bess (RCA Camden, 1958)
With Oliver Nelson
- More Blues and the Abstract Truth (Impulse!, 1964)
With Art Tatum
- The Tatum Group Masterpieces, Vol. 8 (1956)
With Clark Terry
- The Happy Horns of Clark Terry (Impulse!, 1964)
- liner notes by Billy James taken from the 1962 recording Ben and "Sweets" CBS 460613
- LP issued as Hines's Tune in France with Don Byas, Roy Eldridge, Stuff Smith, Kenny Clarke & Jimmy Woode
- Ben Webster — by Scott Yanow, for Allmusic
- "Ben Webster played a sultry Sax..."
- The Ben Webster Foundation
- The Jazz collections at the University Library of Southern Denmark