bcarter.jpgBenny Carter, a legendary saxophonist and accomplished jazz composer, died on Saturday of bronchitis. He was 95.
As a child, Carter was taught to play the piano by his mother and sister. When he was old enough to afford it, Carter purchased an alto saxophone, taught himself how to play it, and spent the next 70 years performing and recording records. Over time, he also learned how to play the trumpet, clarinet, trombone and tenor and baritone saxophones.
Carter started sitting in with bands in Harlem jazz clubs as a teenager. His first full-time job was performing with the Charlie Johnson Orchestra at Smalls’ Paradise in New York.
He taught himself how to arrange music, and his first charts were recorded in 1928. That same year, Carter joined the Horace Henderson band. When the leader of the band walked out, Carter was elected as his replacement. He was only 21 years old.
In the 1930s, Carter formed his own band and played at the Savoy Ballroom. Although he was a reserved man, his reputation grew within jazz circles. Pianist Teddy Wilson, trumpeter Miles Davis and drummer Max Roach all played in Carter’s band.
Carter broke the color barrier in Hollywood as one of the first black arrangers to write movie and TV soundtracks. He also arranged music for the major singers of his time, including Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles.
In the second half of the 20th century, Carter released numerous records and performed throughout the U.S. and Europe. He received the lifetime achievement Grammy in 1987, then released another 20 albums before retiring.
At the end of his career, Carter was honored at the Kennedy Center in Washington. He received the National Medal of Arts from President Bill Clinton, and an honorary doctorate from Princeton University.