Storyville Records

Webster, Ben

Benjamin Francis Webster (March 27, 1909 – September 20, 1973), a.k.a. "The Brute" or "Frog," was an influential American jazz tenor saxophonist. Webster, born in Kansas City, Missouri, was considered one of the three most important "swing tenors" along with Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. Known affectionately as "The Brute",[1] he had a tough, raspy, and brutal tone on stomps (with his own distinctive growls), yet on ballads he played with warmth and sentiment. Stylistically he was indebted to alto star Johnny Hodges, who, he said, taught him to play his instrument. After Webster's death, Billy Moore Jr. created The Ben Webster Foundation, together with the trustee of Webster's estate. Since Webster's only legal heir, Harley Robinson in Los Angeles, gladly assigned his rights to the foundation, The Ben Webster Foundation was confirmed by The Queen of Denmark's Seal in 1976. In the Foundation's trust deed, one of the initial paragraphs reads: "to support the dissemination of jazz in Denmark". It is a beneficial Foundation, which channels Webster's annual royalties to musicians, both in Denmark and the U.S. An annual Ben Webster Prize is awarded to a young outstanding musician. The prize is not large, but considered highly prestigious. Over the years, several American musicians have visited Denmark with the help of the Foundation, and concerts, a few recordings, and other jazz-related events have been supported. Webster's private collection of jazz recordings and memorabilia is archived in the jazz collections at the University Library of Southern Denmark, Odense.

Recordings

Ben Webster: Ben Webster's First Concert in Denmark

The music on this album could be called ’a prelude to a love affair’. Why? Because it was the great tenor saxophonist Ben Webster’s first encounter with the country and city he decided to spend the rest of his life in, living, playing and loving. It was also his first day on the continent after a successful time in London, mostly at Ronnie Scotts famous club.

The day in January 1965 when he entered the Danish Radio Concert hall, a wonderful, wooden acoustic architecture from the thirties, began with a short band rehearsal and sound check for the live concert on the Sunday afternoon on the FM radio wave. One hour. His backing would be his new friends, Kenny Drew, Niels Henning Ørsted-Pedersen, Alex Riel… the bass player would from then on be called only Niels by Webster.. and the producer, Børge Roger Henrichsen, a well estimated pianist, bandleader and radio editor, wanted to ‘time’ the concert… thus is Webster playing one chorus of ‘In A Mellowtone’ in two tempi at the Steinway for Roger to get his stopwatch in sync. Of course the concert stretched over time with applause from the full house and since it was live, we only get to hear the first chorus of ‘Cottontail’ at the end. The News had to break in.

Webster was probably the only of the giants from the thirties/forties who hadn’t been playing for gigs or at great concert tours in Europe, Paris, Rome, Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, Amsterdam et.al. simply because of his fear of flying over great waters like The Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. Everybody had been here from before WW2 and after on their own or through Norman Granz or George Wein in JATP- or Newport Festival packing. Some decided to become expatriates like Benny Carter, Stuff Smith, Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Horace Parlan, Benny Bailey, Kenny Clarke, Oscar Pettiford, Art Taylor, Bud Powell and Kenny Drew. A handful of explanations for this exemplifies by mentioning: More professional respect, better pay, no discrimination, easier living, which Webster was to discover so many years later.

On this well recorded concert, we hear what could be called Websters Travel Bag- numbers. Tunes he liked, others could play and people would appreciate… no new nonsense here.

The famous trio, who played for a decade as house band at the famed club ‘ The Montmartre’, offers great swing and taste behind Webster. Drew’s soli are delicious.

Webster is in full control from the medium tempi down the touching ballad of ‘Over The Rainbow’.

He would confirm that in his later years being the master of the ballad, still touching listeners all over the world who in his playing find a human, sincere feeling, a sparse timing – to the point. Never too much, never too little.

Webster loved Copenhagen, and the City loved him. A fancy street by the waterfront is named after him, his portrait is engraved at the concert Hall, his grave is visited and his Foundation is still active after ..w hat…33 years. The music here is his first love letter.