Benny "King" Carter


Benny Carter (1907-2003), best known for playing the alto saxophone, was called "King" by other musicians. (I snapped this picture in April 1994 during the Oscar Peterson Jazz Cruise.) A remarkable player, composer, arranger, and arguably the best arranger in the history of jazz, Carter played several instruments including saxophone (alto, baritone, tenor) clarinet, piano, trombone, and trumpet. His multiple talents were on display throughout his adult life. When Carter was aged 54 years, Whitney Balliett said about Carter, "Few of his contemporaries continue to play or arrange or compose as well as he does, and none of them plays as many instruments and arranges with such aplomb."

I remember Benny as a warm, gracious, friendly person--with the biggest and bluest eyes I have ever  seen. Shortly before the cruise, I had purchased My Friend the Piano, a CD on Concord recorded by Dave McKenna. On it is "Only Trust Your Heart," a beautiful ballad composed by Carter and Sammy Cahn. It is a tune I play every time I play a piano. One morning during the cruise, Carter and jazz critic Leonard Feather were eating breakfast. After walking to their table to say hello, Carter invited me to join them. I told him how much I liked "Only Trust Your Heart." He said, "It's a song I never recorded." I said, "Yes, you did, and I have a copy of the recording." 

I saw Carter many times throughout the cruise, which featured many superb jazz masters; for example, Keter Betts, John Bunch, Benny Green, Dave McKenna, Junior Nance, Oscar Peterson, Bobby Rosengarden, Gray Sargeant, and Phil Woods. Also aboard was Gene Lees, my favorite jazz writer as well as a fine lyricist. Keter, a dear friend, was an inveterate golfer, who often seemed to prefer playing golf more than bass for Ella Fitzgerald. In addition to golfing with Keter during every stop, I recall many wonderful times with him during this cruise.

On a Saturday morning two weeks after returnig from the cruise, I was drinking coffee during breakfast when the telephone rang. To my delight it was Benny Carter, calling just to say hello. During the cruise I had told him of my friendship with Johnny Costa. I don't recall his exact words, but he expressed high respect for Johnny's music. I told Carter I was hoping  Johnny would visit California at some point. Carter welcomed the chance to meet Johnny. Many musicians admired Johnny's music, but the vast majority of them, including Benny, never met him.

© Copyright 2015 Dr. Hugh Glenn