“Jazz giant” is a term immediately greeted with skepticism, yet Benny Carter fills the role better than most. Perhaps the greatest of the big band leaders that most people have never heard of, Carter finally settled down in Hollywood in the fifties and began to record the full-length albums that eventually cemented his reputation. Jazz Giant
is an excellent piece of work that serves as a relic from a bygone era when Kansas City swing was in its prime.
In addition to Carter, Ben Webster – another “giant” who had a rebirth as an artist in the fifties – huffs his way through a few choruses on each tune, which is reason enough for some to seek out this record. A cadre of West Coast jazz musicians, who most likely devoured Carter’s earlier sides when they came out, provide enthusiastic accompaniment. The group strolls through a selection of songs that either come from the early part of the century, or originals that might as well have been.
Although Rowles, Kessel, and Rosolino acquit themselves nicely, nothing approaches the treat of hearing Webster and Carter go at it. Carter solos with gentlemanly elegance and darting phrases, finding rich harmonic avenues in chestnuts like “Ain’t She Sweet.” Webster, on the other hand, ambles through the changes, patiently employing a lovely tone with just enough edge to keep from sounding too sentimental. As a bonus, Carter shows his skill on the trumpet on two numbers, both of which demonstrate that he could have had quite a career on his second instrument.
The running time is brief – barely forty minutes – but there’s enough classic swing here to remind the listener of a time when jazz was more about keeping good company than introspective exploration.
Personnel: Benny Carter-alto sax, trumpet; Ben Webster-tenor sax; Frank Rosolino-trombone; Andre Previn, Jimmy Rowles-piano; Barney Kessel-guitar; Leroy Vinnegar-bass; Shelly Manne-drums.