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A Salute to Ben Webster 1936-1945

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Album Review

When jazz enthusiasts see the title A Salute to Ben Webster, they might assume that it finds a group of jazzmen getting together and paying homage to the influential tenor saxophonist. But this CD isn't a typical jazz tribute album; rather, Cleopatra's Stardust label salutes him by assembling a collection of Webster's performances from 1936-1946. Although Webster recorded as a leader extensively in the '50s and '60s, he is featured as a sideman on these swing-era recordings. Much of the CD spotlights Webster's early-'40s contributions to Duke Ellington's orchestra; the breathy, big-toned saxman is prominently featured on performances of favorites like "Cotton Tail" and Billy Strayhorn's "Raincheck." However, A Salute to Ben Webster also acknowledges Webster's work with pianist Teddy Wilson's septet in 1936 and the Woody Herman All-Stars in 1945. The Herman material finds two tenors on the front line — Webster and Flip Phillips — and those who have listened to the saxmen extensively should have no problem telling them apart. And whether Webster is being employed by Ellington, Wilson, or Herman, his playing is consistently strong on this album. But as enjoyable as A Salute to Ben Webster is, the disc is far from the last word on Webster's sideman work in the '30s or early to mid-'40s. There are no performances of "All Too Soon" — one of the loveliest ballads that he embraced during his association with Ellington — and there are no examples of the tenor titan's work with Fletcher Henderson or Benny Carter. But then, Stardust never claimed that the collection was supposed to tell the entire story of Webster during the swing era. Although A Salute to Ben Webster: 1936-1941 is not recommended to casual listeners, collectors will find this CD to be interesting.


Born: 27 March 1909 in Kansas City, MO

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Ben Webster was considered one of the "big three" of swing tenors along with Coleman Hawkins (his main influence) and Lester Young. He had a tough, raspy, and brutal tone on stomps (with his own distinctive growls) yet on ballads he would turn into a pussy cat and play with warmth and sentiment. After violin lessons as a child, Webster learned how to play rudimentary piano (his neighbor Pete Johnson taught him to play blues). But after Budd Johnson showed him some basics on the saxophone, Webster...
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