Award-winning jazz musician and arranger Benny Carter (1907–2003) had a distinctive sound that was showcased most famously in his 1937 "Honeysuckle Rose." His 1961 album Further Definitions, which critics consider a masterpiece, remains one of jazz's most influential recordings.
Carter was born as Bennett Carter on August 8, 1907, in New York City, the only son and the youngest of three children in his family. He grew up in one of the roughest Manhattan neighborhoods at that time, San Juan Hill, near what is now Lincoln Center. His formal education ceased after the eighth grade. His mother taught him piano and, through his cousin, Theodore (Cuban) Bennett (who never recorded but who influenced numerous musicians with his highly developed musical ideas), and Bubber Miley, a neighbor who played with Duke Ellington, Carter developed an interest in the trumpet. He saved for months and bought a trumpet at a pawn shop when he was 13, but, when he failed to master it after a weekend's effort, he traded it for a C-melody saxophone (having been told, erroneously, that that instrument was easier to learn). Carter, who was for the most part self-taught, counted Frankie Trumbauer as an early inspiration. By the age of 15 he was sitting in at night spots around Harlem.
In 1925, Carter married his first wife, who died of pneumonia three years later. That same year he briefly attended Wilberforce College in Ohio, where he played with the Wilberforce Collegians, then toured with Horace Henderson. After brief stints with James P. Johnson, Earl Hines, and Ellington, he worked for more than a year with the Charlie Johnson Orchestra, his first full-time job.
Carter formed his own group for New York's Arcadia ballroom in 1928 and somehow managed to teach himself to arrange music. That same year he recorded his first records, with the Charlie Johnson group, including two of his own arrangements. Later that year, he began working in a band led by pioneering big band arranger Fletcher Henderson, Horace Henderson's brother. The band was revitalized by Carter's innovative writing, especially his scores for the saxophone section, and he became an influential arranger who also wrote for Ellington and Benny Goodman. Shortly after joining the band, the 21-year-old Carter was chosen by its members to replace the leader, who had walked out during a tour.
Codified Swing Music's Sound
In 1931, Carter became the musical director for the Detroit-based McKinney's Cotton Pickers. Having mastered the alto sax, he now took up the trumpet and within a couple of years was recording trumpet parts that rivaled his alto work. On both instruments, he became known for envisioning a solo as a whole while still retaining spontaneity.
The next year he returned to New York and began assembling his own orchestra, which eventually included swing stars such as Teddy Wilson, Dicky Wells, Chu Berry, and Sid Catlett. As was true of all the bands Carter led, the group, with its high musical standards, became known as a "musicians' band." He was helping to codify what would become the style and essence of swing music, stripping away the elaborate embellishment of dance bands, streamlining rhythm, and making improvisation and composition equal. Unfortunately, the band struggled for commercial success, especially during the Depression, and Carter was compelled to disband it.
At this time, an opportune invitation sent Carter to Paris to play with the Willie Lewis Orchestra at a club called Chez Florence. After nine months, at the instigation of music critic Leonard Feather, he moved to England to work as an arranger for the BBC dance orchestra, writing a prodigious three to six arrangements weekly for a period of ten months. As he spent the next three years traveling throughout Europe, Carter became pivotal in spreading jazz abroad and changing its face permanently. He visited with U.S. musicians such as his friend Coleman Hawkins and played and recorded with leading French, British, and Scandinavian jazz musicians. He also led the first international interracial group in Holland. Carter credited Doc Cheatham, with whom he played during this period, as his greatest influence on trumpet. He did not own a trumpet at the time, so Carter would use Cheatham's.
In 1938 Carter returned to New York to find the big band sound that he had helped to craft sweeping the nation. He recorded with Lionel Hampton and quickly formed another orchestra, which spent two years playing the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. His arrangements were much in demand and appeared on recordings by Ellington, Goodman, Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Gene Krupa. Though he only had one major hit in the big band era (a novelty song called "Cow-Cow Boogie," sung by Ella Mae Morse), during the 1930s Carter composed and/or arranged many of the pieces that became Swing Era classics, such as "When Lights Are Low," "Blues in My Heart," and "Lonesome Nights."
In 1941, Carter stripped down to a sextet that included bebop groundbreakers Kenny Clarke and Dizzy Gillespie. He also wrote arrangements for a radio show, "Your Hit Parade." In 1942 he reorganized his band and moved to California, settling in Hollywood, where he would live for the rest of his life. In the mid-1940s, Carter's band included such leading modernists as Miles Davis, Art Pepper, Max Roach, and J.J. Johnson, all of whom have expressed a debt to Carter as an important mentor.
Worked in Films and Teaching
In Hollywood, Carter moved steadily into studio work. He was among the first black arrangers for films and in the 1950s led the integration of white and black musicians unions. In 1943 he wrote arrangements for and played on the soundtrack of the film Stormy Weather, although he did not receive a screen credit. From 1946, when he surrendered full-time work as leader of a big band, until 1970, he was virtually out of the public eye. He arranged scores for dozens of movies and, beginning in 1959, television programs. Among his film credits are The Snows of Kilamanjaro, The Five Pennies, The Gene Krupa Story, The Flower Drum Song, The View From Pompeii's Head, and Martin Scorcese's Too Late Blues. Among his television credits are M Squad, the Alfred Hitchcock series, Banyon, Ironside, and the Chrysler Theater.
He also toured occasionally as a soloist and with the Jazz at the Philharmonic ensemble. Carter's arrangements were used by almost every significant popular jazz and blues singer of the era, including Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine, Pearl Bailey, Lou Rawls, and Mel Tormé.
In 1969, Carter was persuaded by Morroe Berger, a sociology professor at Princeton University who had done his master's thesis on jazz, to spend a weekend at the college as part of some classes, seminars, and a concert. This led to a new outlet for Carter's talent: teaching. For the next nine years he visited Princeton five times, most of them brief stays except for one in 1973 when he spent a semester there as a visiting professor. In 1974 Princeton awarded him an honorary master of humanities degree. He conducted workshops and seminars at several other universities and was a visiting lecturer at Harvard for a week in 1987.
Carter's touring career was revitalized by his academic work. The U.S. State Department sponsored a tour of the Middle East in 1975, and the following year he played in a nightclub in New York City for the first time in more than three decades. Over the next twenty years Carter made dozens of new records, and much of his early work was reissued. He continued touring in America, Europe, and Japan. On his 82nd birthday, in 1989, he played a concert at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center, returning the next year to introduce a new extended composition.
Won Several Awards
Carter received numerous accolades. In 1978, Carter was invited to the White House to lead a band as part of President Jimmy Carter's commemoration of the Newport Jazz Festival's 25th anniversary. He was also leader of a band that played at Ronald Reagan's 1984 inaugural, played the White House again during the administration of George H.W. Bush in 1989, and in 2000 was presented with the National Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton.
In 1982, when Carter turned 75, New York's WKCR radio station commemorated his birthday by playing his music for 177 hours. In 1984 the Kool Festival honored him with a retrospective concert. Carter received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987 from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. In 1988, his Central City Sketches, recorded with the American Jazz Orchestra in 1987, was nominated for a Grammy. In a 1989 critics' poll conducted by Down Beat magazine, Carter placed first in the arranger's category. In 1990, both Jazz Times and Down Beat magazines ranked Carter the jazz artist of the year in their international critics' polls. In 1994, he won a Grammy for "Elegy in Blue."
In 1996, Carter was among five recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C. In March of that year he played with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in an evening of Carter's music conducted by Wynton Marsalis. The band debuted a new suite, "Echoes of San Juan Hill," as well as playing some of his classics. Also in 1996, the lauded documentary on Carter, Symphony in Riffs, was released on home video. When Carter celebrated his 90th birthday in 1997, a concert tribute was held at the Hollywood Bowl (it was held two days prior to his birthday, since Carter was slated to give a concert in Oslo on his actual birthday).
Carter was married five times, with three of the marriages ending in divorce. He married his fifth wife, Hilma Ollila Arons, whom he had met in 1940 when she went to the Savoy Ballroom to hear his band, in 1979. He had a daughter, Joyce Mills, and a granddaughter and grandson. He died at a Los Angeles hospital on July 12, 2003, just a month shy of his 96th birthday.
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 saxes harmonizing one of his sinuous, 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.
Two recordings that showcase his sound most famously are 1937's "Honeysuckle Rose," recorded with Django Reinhardt and Coleman Hawkins in Europe, and the same tune reprised on his 1961 album Further Definitions, an album considered a masterpiece and one of jazz's most influential recordings. As Jay Weiser said in his farewell to Carter on salon.com, "Nobody in the history of jazz ever did as many things as well." Nicknamed The King by fellow musicians early in his career, Carter was beloved not only for his musical genius, but also for his reserved, dignified, and modest personality. He eschewed flamboyance in his playing and was known as a gracious, warm and witty man. Unlike some of his contemporaries, in the 1940s Carter welcomed saxophonist Charlie Parker as an innovator rather than a threat, an example of his generous spirit.
"Benny Carter," Riverwalk: Live from the Landing,http://riverwalk.org (January 5, 2004).
"Benny Carter: Biography," Benny Carter,http://bennycarter.com (January 5, 2004).
"Benny Carter 1907–2003," ASCAP,http://ascap.com (January5, 2004).
"Benny Carter, 1907–2003," Village Voice,http://villagevoice.com (January 5, 2004).
"Benny Carter, 95, Musician and Arranger Who Shaped 8 Decades of Jazz, Dies," New York Times,http://www.nytimes.com (January 5, 2004).
"Virtual Exhibit: Benny Carter," Rutgers University at Newark,http://newarkwww.rutgers.edu (January 5, 2004).
"Carter, Benny." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 22, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/carter-benny
"Carter, Benny." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved April 22, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/carter-benny
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
Carter, Benny 1907–2003
Benny Carter 1907–2003
Benny Carter’s musical career spanned seven decades, encompassing jazz styles from big band to bebop. Primarily known for his alto saxophone work, he also mastered the tenor saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, and even piano. He was a skilled arranger, scoring music for both Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington, and a fine composer, penning classics like “When Lights Are Low,” “Blues in My Heart,” and “We Were in Love.” Carter received a lifetime achievement Grammy Award in 1987, performed for three presidents (Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush), and was named Jazz Artist of the Year in 1989 by Down Beat and Jazz Times. “Benny Carter’s career was remarkable for both its length and its consistently high musical achievement,” wrote John S. Wilson in the New York Times, “from his first recordings in the 1920s to his youthful-sounding improvisations in the 1990s.”
Benjamin Lester Carter was born on August 8, 1907, in New York City and grew up in the San Juan Hill neighborhood in Manhattan (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. His parents, however, were less than thrilled. “They thought it was undignified,” he told National Public Radio, “demeaning to the black race and at that particular time I think they even called it devil’s music… My mother wanted me to be a violinist and she would [have] liked for me also to have been a theologian.”
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
Born Bennett Lester Carter on August 8, 1907, in New York, NY; died on July 12, 2003, from bronchitis, at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, CA; son of Norrell (a postal clerk and longshoreman) and Sadie (Bennett) Carter; married Rosa Lee Jackson, 1925 (marriage ended); married Margaret Johnson, 1956 (marriage ended); married Hilma Ollila Arons.
Career: Charlie Johnson’s orchestra, musician, 1926; Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra, musician, 1928; McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, musician, 1931; formed his own orchestra, 1932; various bands, Europe, musician, 1935-37; Lionel Hampton and Billie Holliday, 1938; wrote movie and television scores, 1943-70; recorded a serious of albums for Pablo Records including The King, mid-1970s; participated in the Classical Jazz series at the Lincoln Center, 1989-90; celebrated 90th birthday with a performance in Oslo, Sweden, 1997.
Awards: American Society of Music Arrangers, Golden Score Award, 1980; Down Beat and Jazz Times, Jazz Artist of the Year, 1989; Grammy Award, Lifetime Achievement, 1987; Grammy Award, Instrumental Composition, for “Harlem Renaissance Suite” 1992; Grammy Award, Jazz Instrumental Soloist, for “Prelude to a Kiss” 1994.
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.
In 1931 Carter joined McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and, thanks to his growing reputation as an arranger, he sold charts on the side to musicians such as Bennie Moten. He also taught himself to play trumpet during the early thirties, and was recording solos with the instrument after only two years. In 1932 Carter formed his first orchestra with a topnotch ensemble that included tenor saxophonist Chu Berry, pianist Teddy Wilson, drummer Sid Catlett, and trombonist Dicky Wells. Although he would start a number of other big bands during the thirties and forties, he never found the same level of success as Duke Ellington or Count Basie. More importantly, though, he won respect from fellow musicians. “When you made Benny Carter’s band in those days,” guitarist Danny Barker told Nat Shapirio and Nat Hentoff in Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya, “the stamp was on you…. Every time Benny got a band together all the cats would want to know who was in his band because if you could make… Carter’s band, that was it. It was like major-and-minor-league baseball.”
Carter traveled to Paris in 1935 to play with the Willie Lewis Orchestra, and remained in Europe for the next three years, performing with bands in England, France, and Scandinavia. He worked with the BBC orchestra in 1936 and joined saxophonist Coleman Hawkins for a recording with guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli in 1937. After returning to the United States in 1938, Carter played various dates with Lionel Hampton and Billie Holliday before once again attempting to form his own orchestra. He relocated to the West Coast in 1943 where he found lucrative work in Hollywood. Carter appeared as a trumpet player in the film Stormy Weather, and soon was busy scoring music for movies like the Marx’s Brothers Love Happy (1950) and The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952). Throughout the fifties and sixties he frequently wrote scores for television, and limited his public performances to occasional tours with “Jazz at the Philharmonic” and a number of jam sessions sponsored by Norman Granz of Verve Records.
Carter returned to active performing in 1970 following an invitation by Morroe Berger to lecture at Baldwin-Wallace College. He became a visiting professor at Princeton University in 1973 and received a Doctorate of Humanities from the institution in 1974. The following year, at Berger’s suggestion, Carter traveled to the Middle East under the sponsorship of the United States State Department for a lecture and concert series. After his return, he embarked on a series of three albums for Pablo in the mid-to-late seventies. “As The King … proves,” wrote Scott Yanow in All Music Guide to Jazz, “the masterful altoist had not lost a thing through the years.” Carter was also booked for an engagement at Michael’s Pub in New York City, his first extended work on the East Coast in nearly 35 years.
Carter remained active in the 1980s and 1990s, recording over 20 albums for Music Masters, Pablo, and Concord. He 1989 and 1990, he performed at the Lincoln Center as part of the Classical Jazz series, in 1996, he was one of five to receive Kennedy Center Honors, and in 2000, he received the National Medal of the Arts from President Bill Clinton. He traveled to Oslo on his ninetieth birthday in 1997, and then celebrated his birthday again at a two-day tribute concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Carter died on July 12, 2003, from bronchitis at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. “I don’t know that I’ve made any real contribution,” a modest Carter told National Public Radio. “I’ve done what I’ve set out to do, that was have fun with the music, enjoy it and perform it and listen to it, to other people. And I have, to my satisfaction, achieved much that I had not even thought of.”
The Chocolate Dandies, Parlophone, 1930.
Benny Carter—1933, Prestige, 1933.
Spike Hughes and His All-American Orchestra, London/Ace of Clubs, 1933.
Benny Carter and His Orchestra: 1940-41, RCA Victor, 1940-41.
Benny Carter, Big Band Bounce, Capital, 1945.
Benny Carter Plays Pretty, Verve, 1954.
Jazz Giant, Contemporary, 1957.
Aspects, Blue Note, 1958.
Further Definitions, Impulse!, 1961.
The King, Pablo, 1977.
A Gentleman and His Music. Concord Jazz, 1985.
In the Mood for Swing, Music Master, 1987.
Song Book, Music Master, 1995.
Berger, Edward, Morroe Berger, and James Patrick, eds., Benny Carter: A Life in American Music, Vols. 1 and 2, Rowman and Littlefield, 1982.
Erlewine, Michael, ed., All Music Guide to Jazz, Miller Freeman, 1998, p. 182.
Down Beat, October 1, 2003, p. 14.
New York Times, July 14, 2003, p. B7.
Wall Street Journal, July 16, 2003, p. D8.
“Benny Carter (1907-2003),” All About Jazz, www.allaboutjazz.com (May 3, 2003).
Profile, “Morning Edition,” National Public Radio, July 14, 2003.
—Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
"Carter, Benny 1907–2003." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 22, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/carter-benny-1907-2003
"Carter, Benny 1907–2003." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved April 22, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/carter-benny-1907-2003
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
“I can only do what I know,” stated Benny Carter in I a 1989 interview on Marian McPartland’s “Piano Jazz,” a National Public Radio syndicated program. Taken at face value, Carter’s statement leads to the conclusion that he can do virtually anything in the diverse world of music. Dating back to the mid-1920s, Carter has successfully combined the following roles: alto saxophonist; trumpeter; band leader; pianist; clarinetist; trombonist; vocalist; arranger and composer for big swing bands; composer for Hollywood film scores; film actor; composer and arranger for many top vocalists; composer of scores for television series and programs; composer of popular songs; teacher; lecturer; State Department representative. As he approached his eighty-second birthday, Carter was still vitally active in several of these callings.
With Johnny Hodges and Charlie Parker, Carter set the standard for jazz alto saxophonists of all styles. His trumpet and clarinet work has drawn raves from critics and fellow players. As an arranger early in the Swing Era, Carter led the breakthrough that blended jazz solos with ensemble playing in a manner that freed big bands to really swing. His writing for films and television likewise paved the way for acceptance by media moguls and the paying public of newer, jazz-oriented sounds. And, although his bands of whatever size never achieved commercial success, two generations of chosen musicians cherish the time spent playing in one of the bands led by Benny Carter.
Born in the tough San Juan Hill section of New York, Carter began taking piano lessons from his mother and an older sister. When a cornet couldn’t be mastered in a few days, he traded it in for a C-melody saxophone which was soon replaced by an alto at the urging of his first leader. Carter remembers that his first professional job, with the legendary pianist Willie “The Lion” Smith’s trio, brought out that leader’s “iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove” quality. When, in 1925, Carter joined Horace Henderson who was leading Wilberforce (Ohio) University’s “Collegians,” he considered himself, at age eighteen, a professional musician. Extremely curious and largely self-taught, Benny Carter had already begun acquiring some of the musical tools that would foster his astounding versatility. Upon returning to New York in 1926, he played with a variety of bands including those of Horace’s better-known brother, Fletcher Henderson, Chick Webb, Duke Ellington, and Charlie Johnson, with whom he probably made his 1927 recording debut.
Carter’s interest in arranging burgeoned while playing with Fletcher Henderson and Johnson, whose band recorded what is Carter’s first confirmed arrangement, “Charleston Is the Best Dance of All,” in 1928. After
Full name Bennett Lester “Benny” Carter; born August 8, 1907, in New York City; son of Norrell (a postal clerk and longshoreman) and Sadie (Bennett) Carter; married Rosa Lee Jackson, 1925 (marriage ended); married Margaret Johnson, 1956 (marriage ended); married Hilma Oliila Arons.
Sideman in Wilberforce University’s “Collegians,” 1925–26; Sideman with bands of Fletcher Henderson, Charlie Johnson, Duke Ellington, Chick Webb, McKinney’s Cotten Pickers, 1926–33; Arranger/composer for Benny Goodman, Count Basie and others, 1927–88; Arranger/composer for big swing bands, Hollywood films, and television programs, 1927–89; Leader of orchestras and small bands, 1928–86; Staff arranger, British Broadcasting Corp., London, 1936–37; Arranger for vocalists Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, and Carmen McRae, 1955–75; Visiting artist/lecturer/professor, 1970s; Conductor for Concert and Lecture Tour of the Middle East, U.S. State Department, 1975.
Awards: Grammy Award for arrangement of “Busted,” by Ray Charles, 1963; Award from Académie du Disque, France, for The King, 1976; Received Golden Score Award from American Society of Music Arrangers, 1980.
Addresses: Residence —8321 Skyline Drive, Los Angeles, Calif. 90046. Record company —c/o Concord Jazz, Inc., Box 845, 2888 Willow Pass Rd., Concord, Calif. 94522.
leading different versions of his own band, his next move was to join the popular McKinney’s Cotton Pickers in Detroit, replacing Don Redman in 1931 as music director. Günther Schuller, in his first volume on the history of jazz, Early Jazz, describes how Carter was instrumental in freeing up arrangements: “Carter obviously has found the long-sought-after solution for making a section swing: the answer lay in syncopation. … Once the [soloist] could detach himself from explicitly stating the four beats and thus get ‘inside’ the beats a vast field of rhythmic emancipation lay ahead.” He was encouraged (and sometimes coached) by trumpeter Doc Cheatham to apply his obvious gifts to the trumpet. By the time of his 1933 recordings with the Chocolate Dandies, Carter’s prowess on alto, trumpet, and clarinet was acknowledged throughout the music business, as was his talent as a writer and arranger. During this period, fellow musicians were constantly amazed as Carter revealed the layers of his talent.
Pressed by economics, Carter disbanded in 1934, leaving for Europe in 1935. He played with Willie Lewis’s band for about eight months in Paris, then became a staff arranger for the British Broadcasting Corporation in London, which he used as a home base for successful tours throughout Europe before returning to New York in 1938. With a new big band he took up residence at the Savoy Ballroom for nearly three years, with intermittent tours both locally and out of town, following which he worked with smaller groups. One of these groups included the young trumpeter, Dizzy Gillespie. Other musicians in Carter’s groups from the late 1930s to the mid-1940s included trumpeter-arranger Neal Hefti, drummers Kenny Clarke and Max Roach, trombonists J. J. Johnson and Al Grey, saxophonists Dexter Gordon and Lucky Thompson, and trumpeter Miles Davis, all of whom became leading voices when the Bebop movement elbowed its way to prominence.
Beginning in about 1946, Carter settled in Hollywood, where in 1943 he had written and arranged music for the film, Stormy Weather.Work on other films soon followed, including: The Gang’s All Here, Thousands Cheer, Love Happy, The Gene Krupa Story, The Five Pennies, A View from Pompey’s Head, and The Snows of Kilimanjaro.In the latter two Carter performed acting roles as well. Dating to 1958, television scoring commanded most of Carter’s attention as he produced music for series such as “M Squad,” “It Takes a Thief,” “Bob Hope Presents,” “The Chrysler Theater,” and the Alfred Hitchcock series. Concurrently, he wrote arrangements and sometimes conducted for several vocalists, including Ray Charles, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, and Carmen McRae. Carter also used his considerable influence to help bring about the 1953 merging of the segregated black and white musicians’ unions into an integrated Local 47.
Of Carter’s solo playing Whitney Balliett wrote in the New Yorker: “To be sure, Carter was the most admired alto saxophonist of the thirties, but that was hardly surprising. Johnny Hodges didn’t draw himself to his full height until 1940… . [Carter’s 1976] alto-saxophone playing has grown even statelier. The joyous declamatory tone has broadened, and the melodic lines have become longer and more complex.” In his 1989 second volume on the history of jazz, The Swing Era, Günther Schuller describes Carter’s 1930 clarinet work (on “Dee Blues”): “Carter’s clarinet solos—enclosing the performance at either end like the covers of a book—are quite extraordinary. His tone is full and firm with a hue much like that of an A clarinet, and with a slightly edgy thrust in the middle and upper range, taking on the color of both a trumpet and an alto saxophone. In this manner Carter was almost able to match the awesome majesty of [Coleman] Hawkins in his brief sweeping ‘gliding’ solo. Creatively both clarinet solos are superior examples of Carter’s effortless control of ideas, his always cogent sense of direction.” Though he has played the trumpet only sporadically through the years, several beautiful records attest to Carter’s mastery of that instrument, including “Once upon a Time,” “Stardust,” and “I Surrender Dear,” which became a Carter showpiece. The sustained demand for Carter as a writer-arranger speaks to his standing in these disciplines.
The absence of commercial acceptance of Carter’s various large and small bands has caused many musicians and critics to wonder just what is required to achieve this kind of success. While Carter has continued to assimilate and originate new concepts and fresh sounds, he has never sacrificed musicianship for faddish effects. Some have argued that Carter’s extravagant versatility in itself is a problem in that the listening public finds difficulty in attaching a label, a positive identity, to Carter. Others have claimed that the great Carter facility that allows all his feats to seem so polished and effortless appears to rob his playing and writing of passion. In his 1989 book, Schuller concludes his discussion of Carter in this way: “As one hears the late [most recent] Benny Carter and hears the tremendous authority—and yes, even passion—with which he discharges a wide range of assignments, one is tempted to conclude that Benny Carter, the restless ever-searching seeker, has finally found his rightful place (or two) in the sun. His playing as well as his composing and arranging now have a conviction, an inevitableness, and above all a reaching out to an audience, whatever audience or audiences—and there are several—in a way that he somehow could never attain earlier.”
The Chocolate Dandies, Parlophone, 1930.
Benny Carter—1933, Prestige, 1933.
Spike Hughes & His AH-American Orchestra, London/Ace of Clubs, 1933.
Benny Carter and His Orchestra: 1940–41, RCA Victor (France), 1940–41.
Benny Carter, Big Band Bounce, Capitol, c. 1945.
(With Coleman Hawkins) Further Definitions, Impulse/MCA, 1962.
Additions to Further Definitions, Impulse, 1966.
(With Dizzy Gillespie) The King, Pablo, 1976.
(With the Count Basie Orchestra) Basie Jam #2 and #3, Pablo, 1976.
Benny Carter All Stars (in Tokyo), Pablo, 1977.
A Gentleman and His Music, Concord, 1986.
Only Trust Your Heart, 1989.
Berger, Morroe, Benny Carter, A Life in American Music, Volumes I and 11, Scarecrow Press and the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University, 1982.
Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians, Greenwood Press, 1982.
Biographical Dictionary of Jazz, Prentice Hall, 1982.
Case, Brian, and Stan Britt, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz, Salamander Books, Ltd., 1978.
Chilton, John, Who’s Who of Jazz, Time-Life Records, 1978.
The Complete Encyclopedia of Popular Music and Jazz, 1900–1950, Arlington House, 1974.
Feather, Leonard, The New Edition of The Encyclopedia of Jazz, Bonanza Books, 1960.
Gitler, Ira, Swing to Bop, Oxford University Press, 1985.
New Grove Dictionary of American Music, Macmillan, 1986.
Rust, Brian, Jazz Records 1897–1942, 5th revised and enlarged edition, Volume 1, Storyville Publications, 1982.
Schuller, Gunther, Early Jazz, Oxford University Press, 1968.
Schuller, Gunther, The Swing Era, Oxford University Press, 1989.
Shaw, Arnold, The Street That Never Slept, Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1971.
Simon, George T., The Big Bands, revised and enlarged edition, Collier, 1974.
New Yorker, July 5, 1976.
New York Times, June 5, 1986.
Village Voice, May 11, 1982.
"Carter, Benny." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 22, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/carter-benny
"Carter, Benny." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved April 22, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/carter-benny