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Ben Webster: Webster's Dictionary, 1970


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One of my favorite Ben Webster albums from the tail end of his career is Webster's Dictionary, recorded in London for Ronnie Scott Records in October 1970. The label was founded by Scott, the famed British tenor saxophonist and club owner, which tells you immediately it's an intelligent record. By intelligent, I mean that Scott did something special with Webster.

Rather than the usual album of Ellingtonia or songbook-plus-trio fare, Scott let his saxophone buddy Pete King produce. King bought in Stan Tracey of Jazz Suite Inspired by Dylan Thomas's “Under Milk Wood" fame to arrange the 10 ballads and had Rahsaan Roland Kirk write the liner notes.

The group on the album's unusual instrumentation backing the breathy tenor saxophonist was Tracey (p), Dave Green (b), Tony Crombie (d), Alan Branscombe (vib), Tony Coe (clar), and Tony Gilbert (strings leader, 1st violin).

As Kirk wrote:

“I must commend the sympathetic arrangements written by Stan Tracey—the interplay between woodwinds, strings and vibraphone is always interesting and distinctly beautiful, and the rhythm section supplies a beautiful carpet beneath the orchestra, with my very good friend Dave Green on the bass particularly strong.

“And also a word in praise of Pete King, the producer of the record. I think it takes a man with a soul to produce a record such as this in these days of electronic gimmickry and loudness... .This is Rahsaan Roland Kirk asking you to listen and be freed by the music of Ben Webster. Listen up, listen down, listen sideways, listen horizontal, listen vertical, light high, listen low, listen square and listen round. Listen."

The tracks:
  • Love Is Here to Stay
  • Where Are You?
  • Willow Weep for Me
  • For All We Know
  • That's All
  • Someone to Watch Over Me
  • The Shadow of Your Smile
  • Come Sunday
  • For Heaven's Sake
  • Old Folks
Too often we think only of Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young as the sole saxophonists who changed the direction of jazz in the 1940s. Ben Webster was the third man who gave the tenor saxophonist a distinct personality as a soloist, particularly on ballads. Webster's Dictionary proves my point, and is a terrific entry point if you're not too familiar with his sound.

Ben Webster died in 1973; Stan Tracey died in 2013.

JazzWax tracks: Ben Webster's Webster's Dictionary has not been released digitally and is long out of print on vinyl. You can find a copy of the LP on eBay for around $50, including shipping from the U.K. The album is going for less at Discogs.com.

JazzWax clips: Here's the entire album, with ads...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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Track Listing

Love Is Here to Stay; Where Are You?; Willow Weep for Me; For All We Know; That's All; Someone to Watch Over Me; The Shadow of Your Smile; Come Sunday; For Heaven's Sake; Old Folks.


Ben Webster
saxophone, tenor
Dave Green
bass, acoustic
Alan Branscombe
Tony Coe
saxophone, tenor

Album information

Title: Webster's Dictionary | Year Released: 1970 | Record Label: Ronnie Scott Records





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