[JPL] Jazz Master’s Signature, Written in Sax and Brass

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Mon Oct 22 18:56:18 EDT 2007

October 22, 2007
Music Review | Benny Carter Centennial
Jazz Master’s Signature, Written in Sax and Brass 
Benny Carter spread his aesthetic throughout jazz from
the 1920s to the 1960s, and he did it in a number of
ways. Jazz exists first in the public imagination
through its soloist stars, and from the mid-’20s
onward Carter was a great improviser — first on alto
saxophone, then on trumpet — though he didn’t satisfy
anyone’s picture of a jazz genius as a troubled,
mercurial man-child; he was private and professional. 

But he was also an excellent composer, arranger and
bandleader, able to handle great quantities of music
and musicians; he knew how to collaborate. Those
qualities eventually took him around the world and
gave him longevity, so that he made excellent music
until his death in 2003 at 95. 

It was fitting then that no single musician ran away
with Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Friday night concert at
Rose Theater, based around Carter’s music, this year’s
season-opening program. (Carter was born in 1907, and
this is his centennial year.) If there was a star, it
was a whole bloc within a band: the Jazz at Lincoln
Center Orchestra’s saxophone section, playing the
tightly harmonized passages that were among Carter’s

Carter’s arrangement of “All of Me,” from 1940, is a
good example. After an introduction, it began with the
four saxophonists playing two choruses of harmonized
lockstep, running a rewritten version of the melody
through the chords, and it had everything an
individual solo can have: melodic shape, hesitation,
easy swing, double-timing, open space. The same thing
happened again, at the same level of execution, in “I
Can’t Escape From You.” It was demanding music,
beautifully coordinated.

The show’s first half drew from 78 r.p.m. records, and
the songs were over after a few blinks. Even with the
introduction of a few singers (Cynthia Scott on “When
Lights Are Low” and the orchestra’s trombonist,
Vincent Gardner, singing the ersatz cowboy lyrics in
“Cow Cow Boogie”), most of them reflected the
compression of the recordings. They made their point,
as quiet glides or rubbery riff tunes or
saxophone-section bonanzas, then vanished.

The second section of the concert opened the music up
a little more. “Doozy,” a stylish Carter blues from
his 1961 record “Further Definitions,” is three and a
half minutes on the recording; on Friday it ran
longer, and deservedly so. They cracked it open. Bob
Wilber appeared as a guest soloist and, in the middle
of the tune, traded solos on sopranino saxophone with
the baritone saxophonist Joe Temperley, little horn
against big horn. Then the focus shifted to the alto
saxophonists Ted Nash and Sherman Irby, Mr. Nash
playing aggressive interval-jumps, Mr. Irby
contradicting him with more gentle and congenial

Well, maybe there was a star, and maybe it was Mr.
Irby. The alto saxophone was Carter’s instrument, and
on three memorable solos Mr. Irby used his rich,
plummy, rounded tone, one you almost never hear from
younger saxophonists anymore, with a vibrato like a
throb. The music deepened emotionally as it went along
chronologically, and at the end — Carter’s slow,
lovely final composition, “Again and Again,” from 2000
— the concert became an almost mystical kind of
blue-light séance. 


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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