Photo by Chip Deffaa
As is generally known, among big bands it has usually been the custom for prominent arrangers to take a new arrangement through at the rehearsal for its first performance, and this in itself can provide a wealth of valuable experience for the younger members of the orchestra involved. I well recall, in the ‘thirties, when working with some of the big bands of the period, learning much in this way from rehearsals taken by such arrangers as Peter Yorke. Stanley Bowsher. Sid Phillips, Ben Berlin, Marr Mackie, Phil Cardew, Ray Terry, Paul Fenhoulet, Billy Ternent and many others.
Alas, none of these are still around, though other fine music writers have come along to succeed them, but it is easy to imagine the reaction of the members of Henry Hall’s ensemble to the splendid musicianship of Bennett Lester Carter, to give him his full name, even though they were not hearing much of his playing—at least not in public! At that time, and for some years previously, we heard the Hall orchestra only via radio broadcasts or through its records, although there was no abundance of the latter but, when Benny Carter took over the arrangements, the musicians were clearly inspired.
When he became free of his commitments to the Hall orchestra, Carter organised several studio bands for British Vocalion: these represented the cream of the British music profession at that time, and Benny served as playing leader and arranger. In various tracks he played trumpet, alto and tenor saxophones and clarinet, and some twenty odd titles were cut. Some of these tracks were later reissued on American Brunswick.
The instrumentation of the bands on the various tracks ranged, in addition to Benny, from twelve (five brass, three saxophones and four rhythm), down to a sextet, comprising the versatile Benny plus trumpet, piano, guitar, bass and drums.
Although I have many records in my own collection upon which Benny Carter is to be heard I have only two tracks recorded with British groups. The first of these is of “These Foolish Things”, in which the maestro plays grand solos on alto saxophone, clarinet and trumpet, backed, according to the record sleeve note, by Max Goldberg, Tommy McQuater and Duncan Whyte (trumpets), Ted Heath and Bill Mulraney (trombones), E.O. “Poggy” Pogson (alto saxophone), Andy McDevitt (clarinet/alto saxophone), Buddy Featherstonhaugh (tenor saxophone), Pat Dodd (piano), George Elliott (guitar), Al Burke (bass), Ronnie Gubertini (drums).
My other track from the Carter/British stable is of the sextet already mentioned playing “There’ll Be Some Changes Made”, with Benny leading on alto and tenor saxophones and clarinet, backed by McQuater, Gerry Moore (piano), Albert Harris (guitar), Wally Morris (bass) and Al Craig (drums).
I am also aware that on four tracks the trombones were dispensed with, whilst on some Heath was partnered by Lew Davis and on others Davis was partnered by Mulraney. There were also tracks where Carter used four reed–men in the persons of McDevitt and Featherstonhaugh again, but with George Evans coming in on tenor saxophone and Freddy Gardner taking over from “Poggy” on alto saxophone and clarinet.
George Evans, of course, is the brother of reed expert Leslie, a fine arranger who soon after the war was running an orchestra that sported no less than eleven saxophones, including his own tenor, but included no trombones.
Turning back to the Carter/British orchestra, I recall that another pianist who was on some of the sessions was Billy Munn.
When once Benny Carter vacated his position with the Hall Orchestra we did not hear much of his work on British radio apart from the occasional transmission by the BBC of one of his records but, in the years immediately prior to World War II, Carter, like Coleman Hawkins, spent some time across the Channel, mainly in Holland, Belgium and France, although he did record in Denmark, in 1937, with the orchestra of Kai Ewans. I can well remember fiddling the dials of my radio, often with success, in the hope of picking up broadcasts in which Hawkins and/or Carter were featured.
Hawkins was frequently heard from Hilversum Radio backed by the famous Dutch Ramblers and some of the most exciting discs were cut in Holland by Benny Carter’s Orchestra, in which Hawkins was featured. Carter led on alto saxophone and trumpet, and there was also the grand trombone work of George Chisholm.
Copyright © 1974 Harry Francis. All Rights Reserved.