Personalities | Ben Webster | Forties | Jazz & Blues
(Tenor saxophone, 1909–73)
Ben Webster served an initial apprenticeship in ‘territory’ bands in the Southwest (including those led by Benny Moten and Andy Kirk) before moving to New York in 1934. He recorded with Billie Holiday and worked with a succession of notable bandleaders before joining Duke Ellington in 1940. He was a key member of Ellington’s legendary band of the time, often referred to as ‘the Blanton-Webster Band’ from the influence exerted by the saxophonist and bassist Jimmy Blanton.
Webster led his own small groups from 1943 and established a reputation for his warm, lyrical approach to ballad playing. He rejoined Ellington in 1948, but problems with alcohol forced him to leave music entirely from 1950–52. He returned to tour with Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic and recorded extensively as both leader and accompanist. He settled permanently in Europe from 1964, where he remained active on the club and festival circuit.
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