Benny Carter

Picture of Benny Carter

Benny Carter was an important bandleader in the Swing Era. He also played many instruments including saxophone, clarinet and trumpet. He was a pioneer on the alto saxophone. As an arranger, his charts for Fletcher Henderson's big band helped shape the swing style. He had an unusually long career that lasted into the 1990's.

In the 1920's, Benny Carter performed with likes of June Clark, Billy Paige, and Earl Hines, then toured as a member of the Wilberforce Collegians led by Horace Henderson. He appeared on record for the first time in 1927 as a member of Charlie Johnson's Paradise Ten. He returned to the Collegians and became their bandleader through 1929, including a performance at the Savoy Ballroom in New York City.

Audio Recording of "There, I've Said It Again" by Benny Carter and His Orchestra

In his early 20's, Carter worked as arranger for Fletcher Henderson after that position was vacated by Don Redman. He had no formal education in arranging, so he learned by trial and error.

In 1932 he formed a band in New York City that included Chu Berry, Sid Catlett, Cozy Cole along with some other great musicians. Carter's arrangements were complex. Among the most significant were "Keep a Song in Your Soul", written for Henderson in 1930, and "Lonesome Nights" and "Symphony in Riffs" from 1933, both of which show off his writing for saxophones.

By the early 1930's, Carter and Johnny Hodges were considered the leading alto saxophonists. Carter also became a leading trumpet soloist, having rediscovered the instrument. He recorded extensively on trumpet in the 1930's. Carter's short-lived Orchestra played the Harlem Club in New York but only recorded a handful of records for Columbia, OKeh and Vocalion. The OKeh sides were issued under the name The Chocolate Dandies.

Carter died in 2003 at the ripe old age of 95.

You can hear Benny Carter's music and arrangements right here on Swing City Radio.

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