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Benny Carter Dead at 95

Saxophonist helped define big-band sound

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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