Ben Webster
(b. March 27, 1909 – d. September 20, 1973)

Benjamin Francis Webster was an influential American jazz tenor saxophonist, born in Kansas City, Missouri, and considered one of the three most important "swing tenors" along with Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. He had a tough, raspy, and brutal tone on stomps (with his own distinctive growls), yet on ballads he would play with warmth and sentiment. Stylistically, he was heavily indebted to Hawkins, particularly for his low, muscular tone and his vibrato. But Webster was also significantly different from his main influence in that his sound was sleeker, less aggressive, and much more spacious.

Webster learned to play piano and violin at an early age, before learning to play the saxophone. 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). Webster spent time with quite a few orchestras in the 1930s (including Andy Kirk, Bennie Moten's legendary 1932 band that included Count Basie, Oran Page and Walter Page, Fletcher Henderson in 1934, Benny Carter, Willie Bryant, Cab Calloway, and the short-lived Teddy Wilson big band).

In 1940, Ben Webster became the first major tenor soloist of Duke Ellington's orchestra. 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 was known as the Blanton-Webster band. After three productive years of playing with Ellington, Webster left the band in an angry altercation, during which he reportedly cut up one of Ellington's suits. 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; and toured with Jazz at the Philharmonic during several seasons in the 1950s.

Webster recorded a classic set with pianist Art Tatum, and generally worked steadily, but in 1964 he moved permanently to join other American jazz musicians in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he played when he pleased during his last decade. Although not all that flexible, 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. In 1971, Webster reunited with Duke Ellington and his big band for a couple of shows at the Tivoli Gardens in Denmark.
Ben Webster died in Amsterdam, The Netherlands in 1973 and was buried in the Assistens Kirkegård in the Nørrebro section of Copenhagen.

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. (Source: wikipedia.org)

 

 

 

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