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Until his death at the age of 96, Benny Waters was not only the second oldest active jazz musician (to Eubie Blake who made it to 100) but a powerful altoist who would be considered impressive if he were only 50. Waters' personal history covered virtually the entire history of recorded jazz, although he never really became a major name. He worked with Charlie Miller from 1918-1921, studied at the New England Conservatory, and became a teacher; one of his students was Harry Carney, remarkably. Waters played, arranged for, and recorded with Charlie Johnson's Paradise Ten (1925-1932), an underrated group that also for a time included Benny Carter and Jabbo Smith. Waters, who was primarily a tenor saxophonist and an occasional clarinetist during this period, was influenced to an extent by Coleman Hawkins, and he recorded with both Clarence Williams and King Oliver in the 1920s. During the next two decades, Waters played in many groups including those led by Fletcher Henderson (for a few months), Hot Lips Page, Claude Hopkins, and Jimmie Lunceford. He led his own unit during part of the 1940s, played with Roy Milton's R&B band, and in 1949 went to France with the Jimmy Archey Dixieland group. Waters settled in Paris, working steadily, although he was largely forgotten at home. By the 1980s, he was visiting the U.S. more frequently, and Waters is heard in brilliant form on a 1987 quartet set for Muse on which he plays tenor, alto, and clarinet, in addition to taking some effective vocals. A short time later he went blind and stuck exclusively to playing alto (on which he played in a jump style reminiscent of Tab Smith, that shows the occasional influence of John Coltrane). The seemingly ageless Benny Waters continued recording and performing with a remarkable amount of energy, touring with the Statesmen of Jazz in 1995 and creating some miraculous music prior to his death on August 11, 1998. ~ Scott Yanow
23 January 1902 in Brighton, MD
'20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s