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Benny Powell: Trombone Titan

By Published: October 30, 2008

AAJ: Talk about others with whom you recorded.

BP: [Trumpeter] Harry Edison was sort of my mentor, a very generous, giving guy. A lot of the times when we got offstage, he would go to the cathedrals or churches in Europe. No one would ever think that of him.

AAJ: Sarah Vaughan?

BP: Oh yeah, she was sort of like the kid sister to the Basie band. She was a very shy person. She wasn't shy with us and she loved Basie and Billy Eckstine of course. She sounded like a Stradivarius, like a violin without a vibrato.

And Joe Williams. He was another favorite. I worked with Joe with the Basie band. And I did some things at the Rainbow Room when he was a headliner. Joe always wanted to sing a broader range of things but Basie always wanted him to sing the blues.

AAJ: Benny Carter?

BP: Again, he was one of those guys who got a lot done without shouting. But you knew you didn't mess with Benny Carter. I was on a big date out in Hollywood. At that particular time I don't know whether it was part ego or part wanting to be seen, but I asked about a note. I said, "Excuse me. Mr. Carter. On page 32 I have an E flat." And I questioned it. He looked at it. He said "That's an E flat?" And I said yeah. He said "Play it." And that's all he said to me. And I knew not to mess with Benny Carter.

Benny PowellAAJ: Barry Harris?

BP: I always thought Mayor Bloomberg should make him a city treasure because he has done so much for so many people and been so compassionate to everyone. If you don't like Barry Harris you don't like children.

AAJ: Aretha Franklin?

BP: I met her when she first came here. As a matter of fact, we had a little flirtation. It never did amount to much. She was discovered by John Hammond. He was another mentor. I remember he tried to get me to listen to trombone players who had come before. It's funny how students don't want to be interested in something before John Coltrane. So I can understand very well how he wanted me to listen.

AAJ: Charlie Parker?

BP: I first heard of him when I was living in New Orleans—like 1945. I heard the record "Sho' Enuf." I got a chance to ride in a taxi with Charlie Parker. There was a club on 8th Avenue and 110th Street, The Paradise. Somehow I got a chance to ride in this taxi downtown with Charlie Parker. That was the only time I was ever in his physical presence. I can't even remember how I got a chance to be in the taxi. I was awestruck.

AAJ: Duke Ellington?

BP: We did this thing with the two bands, Duke Ellington and Count Basie. Oh man! Seeing them at the same time. Plus all of my heroes, Lawrence Brown and all of those guys. At the end, Sonny Payne and Sam Woodyard with drum solos and both of the bands hitting. Man! Being in the midst of all of that it transported me to another zone altogether. It sent me out there. I don't think I have come down since.

Selected Discography:

Benny Powell, Nextep (Origin, 2008)
Benny Powell, The Gift of Love (Faith, 2003)
Benny Powell, Why Don't You Say 'Yes' Sometime? (Inspire Productions, 1991)
Randy Weston, The Spirits of Our Ancestors (Antilles, 1991)

John Carter, Castles of Ghana (Gramavision, 1985)

Benny Powell, Coast to Coast, (Trident, 1982) Lionel Hampton, Newport Uproar! (Reunion at Newport 1967) (RCA Victor-Bluebird, 1967)

Frank Foster, Here Comes Frank Foster (New Faces, New Sounds) (Blue Note, 1954)

Photo Credit
Jos L. Knaepen

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