February 14, 2020- Today's BHM topic is: Benny Carter
Benny Carter was one of the most important jazz musicians of all time and one of the true pioneers of both jazz arranging and of the alto saxophone. As an arranger he was one of the pioneers who, along with Don Redmond, established big band orchestration in a jazz setting.
As a composer he wrote many jazz standards such as "When Lights Are Low" and "Malibu." He also helped Capitol Records get off the ground providing the labels first hit with "Cow Cow Boogie."
As a soloist he was one of the first models for the instrument along with Johnny Hodges. He was equally adept as a trumpet soloist which was as unique then as it is today.
He was very successful during the twenties and thirties working with Fletcher Henderson, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and his own big band both in the United States and Europe.
He moved to Los Angeles in 1942 and remained there until his death in 2003 at the age of 96.
Once in Hollywood he continued with his own big band that featured many young players such as Miles Davis, J.J. Johnson, Max Roach,Art Pepper, Gerald Wiggins, Dexter Gordon and Al Grey. In 1943 he worked on the film "Stormy Weather" which began a long career writing for motion pictures and television. He kept the band going until 1946 working regularly at Billy Berg’s Swing Club on Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood.
During the time he was working at the Swing Club he decided to buy a house in Los Angeles but many neighborhoods had restrictive covenants that kept certain areas racially segregated. He fought against it and won which was a major victory for equal rights.
He dropped the big band in 1946 and began concentrating on playing and writing. He was in huge demand as a vocal arranger and wrote for everyone including Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee and Sarah Vaughan. He got more and more busy in the film studios and was one of the first black musicians to help break down the racial barriers on that side of the business. Los Angeles had two musicians unions, one for black musicians and one for white. Benny fought to consolidate the two into one which happened in 1950. The consolidation led to much more work for black musicians in all genres.
His band was never as popular with the general public as Basie or Ellington but he was one of the most revered artists in the history of the music. His legacy is immense. He left a massive body of work and his reputation among his peers is unequalled.