Friday, March 27, 2009

Ben Webster at 100

Today is the 100th anniversary of Ben Webster's birth. Webster was one of the great jazz tenor sax players of the 1930s and 1940s, considered the equal of Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young.

Ben Webster was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 27, 1909. He studied piano and violin, and attended Wilberforce College. After college, he played piano in a silent movie-theater and played in several bands. He picked up the saxophone and soon was playing tenor sax in a variety of bands. In 1934, Webster moved to New York to join Fletcher Henderson's band. During the 30's, he also worked with musicians such as Benny Carter, Cab Calloway, Roy Eldridge, and Teddy Wilson. By 1940, Webster became a regular member of Duke Ellington's band, and soon became one of its featured soloists. While he was only with Ellington a brief few years, Webster had a great influence on the band.

By 1964, Ben Webster moved to Europe -- one of the many American jazz exiles. He briefly lived in the Netherlands before moving to Denmark, where he resided the rest of his life. During his years in Europe, he recorded prolifically. Webster died in Amsterdam on September 20, 1973.

There are a couple of biographies of Ben Webster,
  • Ben Webster: his life and music, by J. de Valk (c2001)
  • Someone to watch over me: the life and music of Ben Webster, by Frank Buchmann-Moller (c2006)
The Polley Music Library has both of these books. Come check them out.

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