Benny Carter's long career was consistently characterized by high musical achievement, and he developed a unique and readily identifiable style as both an alto saxophonist and an arranger. He was able to double on trumpet and was also proficient on clarinet, piano, and trombone. His saxophone playing was pure-toned, fluid, and flawlessly phrased. One of the trademark sounds of his arrangements was four saxophones harmonizing one of his swooping melodies as if they were one instrument improvising. He also created the big-band model of contending brass and reed sections, anticipated harmonic trends that would later appear in bebop, and transformed a clunky Western notion of musical time into something more buoyant and fresh.
Benjamin Lester Carter was born on August 8, 1907, in New York City and grew up in tManhattan (near Lincoln Center). He took piano lessons from his mother as a young boy, but his musical heroes were trumpeters like his cousin, Theodore Bennett, and Bubber Miley, who played with Duke Ellington. At 13, he bought a trumpet, but discouraged by how difficult it was to play, he traded it for a saxophone a week later. Through a great deal of practice on his own, and the occasional help of several saxophone teachers, Carter quickly grew into a fine player.
At age 15, the young Carter sat in with Harlem bands. From 1924 to 1928, Carter paid his dues as a sideman in a number of New York City jazz bands and by working for a short time for pianist Earl Hines in Philadelphia. At age 19, he received his first full-time job with Charlie Johnson's band. He entered the recording studio for the first time with Charlie Johnson's Orchestra in 1927, sessions that included two pieces arranged by Carter. He would later recall that he learned to arrange by spreading the blueprints of a composition on the floor and then writing the individual parts for the trumpet, saxophone, and other instruments. His new skill allowed him to join Fletcher Henderson's band in 1928, replacing Don Redman as the orchestra's arranger. “The charts that came out of Henderson's band are arguably the most influential of the big band era, noted All About Jazz.