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Ben Webster

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Benjamin Francis Webster (Kansas City, Missouri, USA, March 27, 1909 – Amsterdam, The Netherlands, September 20, 1973) was an influential American tenor saxophonist.

Ben Webster, a.k.a. “The Brute” or “Frog”, was considered one of the three most important “swing tenors” along with Coleman Hawkins (his main influence) and Lester Young. Known affectionately as “The Brute”, he had a tough, raspy, and brutal tone on stomps (with his own distinctive growls), yet on ballads he played with warmth and sentiment. Stylistically he was also indebted to alto star Johnny Hodges, who, he said, taught him to play his instrument.

Webster learned to play piano and violin at an early age, before learning to play the saxophone. Once Budd Johnson showed him some basics on the saxophone, Webster began to play that instrument in the Young Family Band (which at the time included Lester Young). Webster spent time with quite a few orchestras in the 1930s (including Andy Kirk, Fletcher Henderson in 1934, Benny Carter, Willie Bryant, Cab Calloway, and the short-lived Teddy Wilson big band).

In 1940 Ben Webster became the first major tenor soloist of Duke Ellington’s orchestra. During the next three years he was on many famous recordings, including “Cotton Tail” and “All Too Soon.” After three productive years of playing with Ellington, Webster left the band in an angry altercation, during which he cut up one of Ellington’s suits. After leaving Ellington in 1943, Webster worked on 52nd Street in New York City; recorded frequently as both a leader and a sideman; had short periods with Raymond Scott, John Kirby, and Sid Catlett; and toured with Jazz At The Philharmonic during several seasons in the 1950s.

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