Benny Carter

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Benny Carter

February 23, 2018- Today's Harlem Topic: Benny Carter
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Benny Carter was born in New York and grew up in the same neighborhood as Duke Ellington trumpet star Bubber Miley.

He was so inspired by Miley that he tried to emulate him by playing the trumpet but became frustrated and took up the saxophone instead.

By the age of fifteen he was sitting in at various Harlem nightspots.

Between 1924 and 1928 he worked in a variety of Harlem bands appearing on record for the first time with Charlie Johnson and His Small’s Paradise Orchestra.
In addition to playing clarinet, alto and soprano on the date he also wrote the arrangement.

In 1929 he continued to develop as a writer and formed his own band.

In 1930 he joined Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra as saxophonist and chief arranger. A position previously held by Don Redman.

Carter’s arrangements were sophisticated and complex and he soon gained a reputation as one of the most outstanding arrangers in jazz.

In 1931 he followed Redman as the director chief arranger of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers.

In 1932 he went back to leading his own big band and made his first recordings as a leader.  The band included such future stars as Teddy Wilson, Chu Berry and Dicky Wells.  The band recorded as Benny Carter and His Harlemites.

In addition to establishing himself as one of the outstanding alto saxophone soloists he made many appearances as a trumpet soloist as well.  

In 1935 he moved to Europe and worked with several Orchestras as both player and writer.

In 1938 he returned to the United States and re-formed his own big band that played frequently at the Savoy Ballroom.

He continued to lead his big band through the swing era and was in high demand as a composer and arranger writing for many ensembles.

He re-located to the west coast in the mid-forties and worked from a home base in Los Angeles for the rest of his life.  In addition to his work in jazz he also composed for film and television. His career spanned eight decades from the twenties to the nineties.

He was one of the most important jazz musicians in history and was beloved by his peers.
Duke Ellington summed it up when he said: "The problem of expressing the contributions that Benny Carter has made to popular music is so tremendous it completely fazes me, so extraordinary a musician is he."
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