In Memory Of Benny Carter

by Scotty Barnhart


Today, I learned of the passing of legendary Jazz saxophonist, trumpeter, composer, arranger, and bandleader Benny Carter. He died here in Los Angeles yesterday (July 12) and he was 95. Sadly, another Jazz legend and great man has left us.

I talked to his family today and was informed that there will not be a typical service but they'll notify me of what we can do as far as cards and flowers are concerned.

I first met Benny back around 1997 when he accompanied us (Basie) on a tour in Europe for two weeks. He did many recordings with Basie back in the 50s and 60s (The Kansas City Suite, From The Pen Of Benny Carter, and the recent Mosaic reissues which are out of print, although I could make any of you a CD of it if you like) and we were playing his music every night. In fact, we still do today. To hear him play each night in a different city was amazing. Even more amazing was that this giant of a man was the most unassuming person you could ever meet. He often joked that he wanted me to give him trumpet lessons!!!!!!!!! I'm still laughing at that one :-) This was a man who, as an alto saxophonist, influenced Johnny Hodges and Charlie Parker!!!!!! But, unknown to many, he also was a wonderful trumpeter. He was the first black person to become the head of a major studio music division here in Hollywood when he joined 20th Century Fox some years ago. This paved the way for people like Quincy Jones to have the chance to write for major motion pictures and this continues today with others such as Terence Blanchard.

While touring Europe with him in '97, I mentioned that I would be moving to LA soon and that I'd like to come by and visit and listen to his stories from his over 70 year career. He gave me his number without batting an eye and when I got here to LA, he was the first person I called. A few hours later I found myself sitting in his living room. Talk about a kid in a candy store, it was something else to see this man's home and the art he had collected from his travels. Then, he took me back into his den/library and I believe I fainted. To this day, I have never seen that amount of albums, books, tapes, and CD's anywhere. His albums were all in alphabetical order and covered an entire wall from top to bottom and left to right. There were his photos with several US Presidents and every kind of proclamation and award one could get. Yet, he still was unassuming about it all and simply wanted to know more about what I was doing. What?!?!?! This began a friendship that lasted up until now.

I knew his health was failing him over the last few years and I used to make it a point to call him while I was on tour and especially when I returned here to LA. We would often play phone tag and it still amazes me that he would call and leave messages on my machine. He used to take me to his private (no cash allowed) country club in Hollywood Hills for lunch. One time, a few of the men from the orchestra and I went to see Benny at his home and he took us all out to the country club for a bite to eat. You had to be there to see Benny driving his gold Rolls Royce with five-foot tall Kenny Hing (Basie sax legend) and the Afro-clad Brad Leali as passengers!!!!! I have never laughed so hard in my life..........lolol...from behind the Rolls Royce, you could only see Brad's afro and the top of Benny's head barely above the steering wheel...three generations of sax men speeding to a country club in the Hills...lolololololl.........what a trip that was.

Anyway, I thought I would send this to you guys along with one of my prized possessions. It was a photo taken by my good friend Robert Philipson of Holland. It was from that tour in Europe back in 1997. He was the most positive and encouraging of men towards other musicians. The smile on his face says it all. It was an honor for all of us in the orchestra to share the stage with him. He will be missed and will never be replaced. Do yourself a favor and go out and get several of his recordings.

Photo credits:  Scotty Barnhart