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Benny Carter

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For You Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge, Zoot Sims, Clark Terry 09:44

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Not only a great, influential figure during the era of the big bands, saxophonist Benny Carter worked in nine different decades and was a groundbreaking arranger, band leader and performer as jazz moved from swing to be-bop to modern styles.

Born in New York City, his mother gave him piano lessons as a child and he largely taught himself the saxophone. By the age of 15 he was playing in Harlem night clubs and learning his trade as a sideman in local bands. Making his first recordings in 1928 as part of the Charlie Johnson Orchestra, he started arranging for the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra and formed his own big band in the 1930s, which was one of the the first interracial acts to tour Europe.

Carter also worked for the BBC and collaborated with Django Reinhardt while he was away, but returned to the US and established himself with a residency at the Savoy Hotel. He scored his first major hit with the novelty song 'Cow-Cow Boogie' in 1942, and built his reputation as a composer by working on tracks for Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller, before moving to Los Angeles to arrange film scores and play with the cream of the jazz world, including Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday and Ray Charles.

His own band took off, too, and acted as a finishing school for future stars such as Miles Davis, Quincy Jones and Dizzy Gillespie, and he released the acclaimed albums 'Jazz Giant', 'Swingin' in the Twenties' and 'Further Definitions'. By the 1970s he was teaching at universities and touring the world, and he went on to perform for three American Presidents, win a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and was given the National Endowment of the Arts (the highest honour in jazz). 'King' (as he was nicknamed by his peers) also took on the racial discrimination which restricted the property rights of African-Americans and campaigned to de-segregate musicians' unions. He continued to perform until 1997, and he passed away in 2003, aged 95.