Ben Webster Plays Duke Ellington (2018)

Ellington, Strayhorn, Tizol

Ben Webster

Ray Pitts, Ib Glindeman, Niels Jorgen Steen

For many people Ben Webster is indelibly linked with the name of Duke Ellington. Ben had a long and distinguished career, of which his work with Duke was only a small part, but the crucial exposure just as he reached musical maturity was given by Ellington, and that maturity was hastened by the challenge of playing with Ellington. Yet he also gave a lot to the band and to the continuing Ellington tradition.

In other words, he created the role of the tenor saxophone with Duke. Before he joined for his longest stay (in January 1940), there had been no expectation of significant tenor contributions – despite Ben’s previous brief encounters in 1935 and 1936. But, in far less time than the 3 ½ years he remained, Ben had made the tenor an Ellingtonian voice almost as strong as Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney on alto and baritone. His departure left a huge hole in Duke’s music, which was filled by a series of heavyweight soloists including Al Sears, Jimmy Forrest, Don Byas, Ben again, and the great Paul Gonsalves.

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Ben Webster

Like Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, Benjamin Francis Webster, the third member of the classic tenor triumvirate, spent part of his musical apprenticeship in the ranks of the Fletcher Henderson band. A product of Kansas City, where he was born of February 27th, 1909, Webster came to New York in 1932 with the Bennie Moten band. He followed his stint with Henderson by spells with Willie Bryant, Cab Calloway and Stuff Smith, and then in 1935, began an association with Duke Ellington which continued, on and off, for more than ten years. Webster, the pre-eminent disciple of Coleman Hawkins, has that hallmark that distinguishes the great jazz performers from the simply good – an instantly recognizable style. While adopting the searing blowtorch approach of Hawkins on up-tempo numbers, Webster plays ballads in a highly distinctive way, attenuating the note values and following the sustained notes with a tremolo “wake” of exhalation. It’s a patented websterian flourish. Just as Lester Young made his principal mark with Basie, Webster established his reputation in the Duke Ellington orchestra, earning particular acclaim for his solos on the 1940 recordings of “Cottontail” and “All Too Soon”. Webster had an uninterrupted spell with Ellington between 1939 and 1943 and returned for a few months in 948. In between he freelanced around Kansas City in the fifties, toured with JATP and recorded prolifically for Verve with Coleman Hawkins, Oscar Peterson, Johnny Hodges and Art Farmer, among others. After a period of relative inactivity in the early sixties, he moved to Europe in 1965, settling first in Holland, then in Denmark. He worked in clubs and played concerts around Europe and in 1968 made a memorable date with Don Byas for the MPS label. He died in Amsterdam on September 20, 1973. Described by Barry Ulanov as one of “the warmest and most sensitive of performers”. He will be best remembered as a genuine romantic and a most outstanding interpreter of ballads.

Photo: from album cover Come Sunday

Teddy Wilson

Teddy Wilson is universally regarded as one of the supreme keyboard masters of the swing era.  He refined the stride piano tradition established by James P. Johnson and Fats Waller and introduced qualities of elegance, delicacy and finesse that were to earn him wide-spread acclaim and a great number of imitators.  Among the major piano stylists who came under his influence in the thirties were Billy Kyle, Jess Stacy, Joe Bushkin, Hank Jones, Billy Taylor and Mel Powell.

Born Theodore Wilson in Austin, Texas on November 24th, 1912, he studied piano and violin and majored in music theory at Talladega College.  At 17 he started working with local bands in the Detroit area and in 1930 he moved to Toledo to join Milton Seniorís band.

The early thirties found Wilson in Chicago where he gained valuable experience with the bands of Louis Armstrong, Erskine Tate and Jimmie Noone.  Arriving in New York in 1933, he joined Benny Carterís Chocolate Dandies and recorded some sides for John Hammond. Then, after a short spell with Willie Bryantís Band, Wilson teamed up in July 1935 with Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa in the famous Goodman Trio in a group that pioneered racial integrated jazz and became a major force in the swing era.

In the late thirties Wilson, once described by Benny Goodman as ìthe greatest musician in dance music today, did posterity the inestimable favour of recording a large number of sides for Brunswick and Vocalion with the incomparable Billie Holliday and a band of Basie alumni who included Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Freddie Green and Jo Jones.  Those recordings represent the cream of Lady Day's recorded work.

Wilson remained with Goodman until the spring of 1939 and then formed his own excellent but unhappily short-lived band which included Ben Webster, Doc Cheatham, Al Casey and J.C. Heard. The band played such New York venues as the Famous Door on 52nd Street and the Golden Gate Ballroom, but broke up in June 1940.

For the first half of the forties Wilson led various small combos, appearing in and around New York, and he devoted an increasing amount of time to teaching, arranging and broadcasting.

Between 1949 and 1952 he had a staff post with the WNEW radio station in New York. In the sixties, Wilson continued to front small groups, to teach and to work in radio and television; he also made numerous trips to Europe for festival appearances, concert dates and recordings. In 1962 he visited the Soviet Union with his old boss, Benny Goodman. In the seventies he made a number of trips to Japan where he was received with great enthusiasm and was much in demand for record dates. 

Leonard Feather has described Teddy Wilson as succeeding Earl Hines in being the most imitated pianist in jazz. Joachim Berendt has assessed Wilsonís small combo recordings as ìsome of the best and most representative of the swing era.

(-- Mike Hennessey)

 

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Ben Webster Plays Duke Ellington (2018)

Ellington, Strayhorn, Tizol

Ben Webster

Analog Recording Equipment: Nagra-T Tape Recorder modified with high-end tube playback electronics, wired with OCC silver cable from the playback head direct to a Nick Doshi tube head preamplifier
Digital Converters: Merging Technologies Horus
Mastering Engineer: Rene Laflamme - Analog to DSD 256 Transfer
Producer: Erik Moseholm, Paul Clemensen
Recording location: Odd Fellow Palaeet, Copenhagen in 1969, Danish Radio on November 22 and 27, 1969
Recording Software: Pyramix
Recording Type & Bit Rate: Analog

This album was recorded to Analog tape. It was then transferred to the DSD bit rate indicated above.

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2XHDST1122: Ben Webster Plays Duke Ellington
00:47:17   Select quality & channels above
Tracks.
1.
Perdido
Tizol
00:08:39   Select quality & channels above
2.
Johnny Come Lately
Strayhorn
00:04:47   Select quality & channels above
3.
In a Mellow Tone
Ellington
00:06:58   Select quality & channels above
4.
Cottontail
Ellington
00:04:56   Select quality & channels above
5.
Rockin' Rhythm
Ellington
00:05:39   Select quality & channels above
6.
Things Ain't What They Used to Be
Ellington
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7.
Stompy Jones
Ellington
00:05:34   Select quality & channels above
8.
Cottontail
Ellington
00:03:19   Select quality & channels above
9.
Bojangles
Ellington
00:04:20   Select quality & channels above

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