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Ben Webster

Ben Webster was considered one of the "big three" of swing tenors along with Coleman Hawkins (his main influence) and Lester Young. He had a tough, raspy, and brutal tone on stomps (with his own distinctive growls) yet on ballads he would turn into a pussy cat and play with warmth and sentiment.

After violin lessons as a child, Webster learned how to play rudimentary piano (his neighbor Pete Johnson taught him to play blues). But after Budd Johnson showed him some basics on the saxophone, Webster played sax in the Young Family Band (which at the time included Lester Young). He had stints with Jap Allen and Blanche Calloway (making his recording debut with the latter) before joining Bennie Moten's Orchestra in time to be one of the stars on a classic session in 1932. Webster spent time with quite a few orchestras in the 1930s (including Andy Kirk, Fletcher Henderson in 1934, Benny Carter, Willie Bryant, Cab Calloway, and the short-lived Teddy Wilson big band).

In 1940 (after short stints in 1935 and 1936), Ben Webster became Duke Ellington's first major tenor soloist. During the next three years he was on many famous recordings, including "Cotton Tail" (which in addition to his memorable solo had a saxophone ensemble arranged by Webster) and "All Too Soon." After leaving Ellington in 1943 (he would return for a time in 1948-1949), Webster worked on 52nd Street; 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. Although his sound was considered out-of-style by that decade, Webster's work on ballads became quite popular and Norman Granz recorded him on many memorable sessions.

Webster recorded a classic set with Art Tatum and generally worked steadily, but in 1964 he moved permanently to Copenhagen 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, and Bennie Wallace.

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Radio & Podcasts

Transparency: Ben Webster Meets Pinot Noir

Read "Transparency: Ben Webster Meets Pinot Noir" reviewed by Kristen Lee Sergeant


Explore how the transparency of sound and of a grape can create transcendent effects. Kristen takes some detours in zen instruments, Kansas City jazz and the surprising 23andMe results for Pinot Noir... ...

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Jazz & Juice

Transparency: Pinot Noir Meets Ben Webster

Read "Transparency: Pinot Noir Meets Ben Webster" reviewed by Kristen Lee Sergeant


Welcome back to Jazz & Juice—after last month's venture into the opulent, it's a perfect time to venture into the idea of less being more. Transparency When something is transparent, we see beyond it. In a way, transparency gives us another dimension of appreciation; we not only experience the object or the work that we are seeing through, but also what is behind it. Seeing, or hearing, through something means experiencing its causes and influences, whether that be ...

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Album Review

Ben Webster: Ben Webster's First Concert in Denmark

Read "Ben Webster's First Concert in Denmark" reviewed by Chris Mosey


This is a small piece of jazz history. In January 1965, Ben Webster, newly arrived in Europe from America, was working out where to settle down. This concert shows why he decided on Copenhagen. The album starts with Webster making a point about the playing of his former boss Duke Ellington's “In A Mellotone." Webster argues his case on piano, an instrument he played well, while brusquely growling instructions to producer Børge Roger Henrichsen. There is a ...

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Album Review

Ben Webster: In Norway

Read "In Norway" reviewed by Chris Mosey


Ben Webster refused to fly. When he visited Norway from Denmark, his adopted homeland, he went by boat and when he got there would blame his somewhat uncertain gait on his “sea legs," rather than the large amounts of alcohol he had consumed in the vessel's bar. Sometimes his “sea legs" were so bad, initial concerts had to be rescheduled. However, by 1970, when this date was recorded, Webster was 61 and slowing down just a little. ...

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Film Review

Tenor Sax Legend: Live and Intimate

Read "Tenor Sax Legend: Live and Intimate" reviewed by Michael Steinman


Ben Webster Tenor Sax Legend: Live and Intimate Shanachie 2009

Although he looked like a frog or a bullmastiff (hence his nicknames Frog and The Brute), saxophonist Ben Webster was splendidly photogenic, his emotions nakedly on his face. This DVD brings together three concert performances and one documentary from his last decade in Europe. He purrs, snarls and moans with a rhythm trio, a big band, a string section, in a casual ...

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Album Review

Ben Webster: Ben Webster: The Brute & The Beautiful

Read "Ben Webster: The Brute & The Beautiful" reviewed by Michael Steinman


Ben Webster (1909-73), perhaps the least acknowledged of the great jazz tenor saxophonists, was fortunate enough to have a varied 40-year recording career. His ballads were immensely tender and his blues and faster tunes could be nearly violent in their intensity. Hence the title of this two-disc set, a centennial issue that celebrates this musical duality. Webster's career found him in so many contexts (accompanying Billie Holiday, early and late; an integral member of the classic 1940-41 Ellington orchestra; leading ...

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Album Review

Ben Webster: Centennial Celebration

Read "Centennial Celebration" reviewed by Martin Gladu


Remembered for his seminal solos on such classics as “Cotton Tail" and “All Too Soon" as much as for his historic clashes with boss Duke Ellington, hot-tempered saxophonist Ben Webster's legacy truly stands the test of time. The year 2009, being the centennial of the tenor titan's birth, Concord Records marks the occasion with this 9-track compilation taken from four different sessions spanning the years 1956 to 1963.Borrowed from Soulmates (Riverside, 1963)--his collaboration with Austrian piano whiz Joe ...

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Keith Pray
saxophone
Greg Osby
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Jonny Boston
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saxophone, tenor
Ruud de Vries
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Chris Gale
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Dan Wilensky
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Enric Peidro
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Greg Nathan
bass, acoustic
Oleksandr Kolosii
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K Quintet
band / ensemble / orchestra
The Jazz Bastards
band / ensemble / orchestra
Uffe Steen
guitar, electric
CHYKE MARTINS
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Wolfram Goebel
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Chuck Currie
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Photos

Music

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

Ben Webster's First...

Storyville Records
2019

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Valentine’s Day...

Dot Time Records
2018

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In Norway

Storyville Records
2013

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Videos

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