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Benny Carter Dead at 95

Saxophonist helped define big-band sound

July 14, 2003 12:00 AM ET

Benny Carter died July 12th at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, after a brief illness. The legendary jazz reedman was ninety-five.

Born Bennett Lester Carter on August 8, 1907 in New York, Carter was a self-taught phenomenon, playing in the City's jazz clubs as a teenager. Though best known as an alto saxophone player, Carter was also comfortable playing tenor sax, clarinet, piano and trumpet, earning the nickname "King" for his instrumental virtuosity and his memorable compositions, which included "Blues in My Heart," "When Lights Are Low," and "Cocktails for Two." Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Glenn Miller, Count Basie and Benny Goodman are just a few acts who took musical turns with Carter's work.

Carter gigged with Fletcher Henderson's big band between 1930 and 1931, before steering his own large ensemble the next three years. Between 1935 and 1938, Carter was in ambassador mode, bringing jazz to Europe. Upon his return he resumed work with his own ensembles (which would at times include Miles Davis, Max Roach and J.J. Johnson) and in the Forties he began what would be a long and productive run writing and arranging for film and television.

Though Carter would grow less prolific over the years, he continued to record, compose and perform through the Nineties. He won two Grammy Awards (in addition to a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 1987) and in 2000 was presented with a National Medal of the Arts by President Bill Clinton.

Carter's family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to: Morroe Berger-Benny Carter Jazz Research Fund
Institute of Jazz Studies at Dana Library
Rutgers University
Newark, NJ 07102

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