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*On this date in 1909, Ben Webster was born. He was a Black jazz arranger who also played tenor saxophone and piano.
From Kansas City, MO, Webster put down the violin at an early age. A neighbor, Pete Johnson, taught him how to play blues piano and, soon afterwards, he was playing for silent movies in Amarillo, Texas. Through the 1920’s and 1930’s, Webster played with Lester Young and Bennie Moten, who was responsible for getting him recognized. Until then he was thought of as a Coleman Hawkins sound-alike, but after joining Duke Ellington in 1940 (the first major tenor to do so), his true colors came out.
Webster’s approach combined blustery fundamentals and breathy sensuality. It recalled elegant alto players like Benny Carter and Johnny Hodges (two of Webster’s idols). He left Ellington because one night he had been allowed to play piano with the band and stayed too long on the keyboard. When Duke took offense and refused to discuss the matter, Webster cut one of Ellington’s best suits to pieces.
He led his own groups for a while, rejoined Ellington for a bit, and by the 1950’s was working in studios as well as jazz clubs. Conscious of the tide of jazz fashion, Ben Webster moved to Copenhagen in 1964 and it was here that his unpredictability began to form a body of legend.
This was around his over-booking engagements and his personality when drunk or sober. Webster’s late music had lost some of its passion and intensity. He died in Amsterdam on September 20, 1973.
by Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated, New York