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Last Updated: Monday, 14 July, 2003, 09:16 GMT 10:16 UK
Obituary: Benny 'the king' Carter
Benny Carter
Carter paved the way for many black musicians in Hollywood
BBC News Online looks back at the life and career or jazz legend Benny Carter.

Benny Carter was more than a master of melodic invention on the alto saxophone and a virtuoso trumpet player

His originality and improvisation helped to launch the golden age of big band jazz in the 1930s.

A renowned composer, instrumentalist, orchestra leader and arranger, Carter's work for movies and later TV opened doors for many black musicians and composers.

His compositions, such as When Lights Are Low (1936) and Blues in My Heart (1931), became jazz and big band standards.

Many saxophone and trumpet players continue to measure their work against his solos.

Everybody that knows who he is calls him 'king'. He is a king
Louis Armstrong
In his lengthy career he performed with or wrote music for nearly all of jazz's early greats, including Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie.

Louis Armstrong once said of him: "You got Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and my man, the Earl of Hines, right? Well, Benny's right up there with all them cats. Everybody that knows who he is calls him 'king'. He is a king."

Born Bennett Lester Carter in New York City in 1907, he took piano lessons from his mother when he was 10 years old and later studied with a private teacher.

Benny Carter (l) with President Clinton and singer Eddy Arnold
In 2000 Carter received an arts medal from President Clinton
He picked up the trumpet aged 14, but after failing to master it in a week he traded it for a saxophone.

A year later he was proficient on both instruments, and by 15 he had become a regular at Harlem night clubs.

In 1928 Carter made his recording and arranging debut as a member of the Charlie Johnson Orchestra.

With no formal music education, he taught himself to arrange two of the orchestra's recordings. He later joined Fletcher Henderson's orchestra - in which he also assumed arrangement duties.

Carter expanded his duties to include composing, and in 1932 put together his own orchestra. The band struggled financially and disbanded in 1934.

I don't look back at the good old days. The good old days are here and now
Benny Carter
But his reputation as an arranger had grown and in 1942 he reorganised his band, which included bebop pioneers Gillespie and Kenny Clarke and, later, modernist Miles Davis.

He disbanded it in 1946 in part because of his growing Hollywood career.

In 1943 Carter arranged music for Stormy Weather, an all black musical, and in 1944 he appeared in MGM's Thousands Cheer with Lena Horne.

He went on to arrange music for An American in Paris, (1951), The Guns of Navarone (1961), and Busby Berkeley's The Gang's All Here (1943).

Benny Carter
Carter was given a lifetime achievement Grammy in 1987
He later composed and arranged music for 20 TV series, including M Squad, (1957-60), Ironside (1967-75), The Name of the Game (1968-71), and It Takes a Thief (1968-70).

His success as one of the first black musicians to break into the lucrative film scoring market and, eventually to be credited for his work, opened the door for others.

He also succeeded in using his influence to push successfully to desegregate the Musicians' Union's white and black locals.

While Carter continued to arrange and compose music, he stopped touring in the 1950s and 1960s and began to fade in the jazz scene.

In 1969, approached by a sociologist who felt he was not receiving recognition as one of the great contributors to jazz, Carter began lecturing at colleges.

Benny Carter
Carter's compositions have become jazz standards
In 1976 he returned to performing live at Michael's Pub in New York and later that year recorded The King, which featured duets with Gillespie.

"I don't look back at the good old days. The good old days are here and now," he once said.

Carter was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987 and the congressional designation as a National Treasure of Jazz in 1988.

In 2000 he was presented with the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton.

His friend, the producer Quincy Jones, said after visiting him in hospital that he believed Carter had simply decided it was time to go.

"He said he had lived, for 95 years, the greatest life he could ask for, and he wanted to leave us like he lived with us, which was in such dignity."




SEE ALSO:
Jazz pioneer Benny Carter dies
14 Jul 03  |  Entertainment
Jazz flautist Herbie Mann mourned
03 Jul 03  |  Entertainment
Nina Simone: The end of an era
22 Apr 03  |  Entertainment


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