Ben Webster’s 110th Birthday, March 27th
Benjamin Francis Webster was born to Mayme Barker at 2441 Highland Ave. in Kansas City, Missouri, at 12:02 pm on March 27, 1909. After a number of musically turbulent years where he changed from playing violin to piano to tenor saxophone, he came to New York City in 1934 and played in Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra. Then he joined Duke Ellington, where he matured musically in the early 1940s with what came to be known as ‘the Webster-Blanton Band’, which produced some of the best recordings of Ellington’s career. Pioneering bassist Jimmy Blanton became Webster’s best friend, but died tragically of tuberculosis in 1942.
The 1950s was a brilliant period in Webster’s career, largely thanks to music impresario and record producer Norman Grantz taking Ben under his wing. In December 1964 Webster sailed to England and came to Denmark a month later. He lived in the Netherlands from 1966-69, after which he returned to live in Denmark. Ben died in September 1973 during a concert tour of the Netherlands and was laid to rest in Copenhagen’s Assistens Cemetery.
Photo: Ben Webster in Kansas City 1909
Blake and Webster
In 1972 in the summer I had just begun at DR TV, Entertainment dept. We had a running Saturday night TV show, mixed, light, music, interviews etc.
A person, mr. Thomsen, I think his name was, called on the phone and said: Maybe this could be something for the TV. The weather is so rainy and my guests want something to do.,.. - . After a while I understood that the guests were Eubie Blake and his wife, and they were rained in in a summerhouse in the southern part of Sjælland, Zeeland.,
THE Eubie Blake?
Yes. They come here every year since we met in New York…
Well of course we brought Eubie Blake to the DR TV Studio for a live talk/and wonderful pianomusic, maybe 15 minutes long. (It was live and not recorded).
We had a pleasant talk afterwards, and he asked me: I believe that there is a Ben Webster living in Copenhagen now. Do you know about him..?
Yes I did. We saw him almost daily, living nearby now.
So could I arrange a meeting?
Of course. I called Ben and said: I have a surprise guest for you. You ready? Sure, said Ben.
The TV payed for the taxi. Mr. Blake and I took the lift to the third floor on Nørre Søgade, and rang the bell. Ben opened in his brown silk kimono and slippers with the rest of his hair sticking up in the air, and an odour of cabbage on the stove coming through the door.
‘Boy’, said Blake. ‘You better get your clothe in order and open some windows, before I come in.’
Yes Sir, said Ben and closed the door.
We waited and smalltalked outside for a minute or two untill Ben opened the door, dressed and with fresh air from ALL windows opened. Hair groomed. Please come in.
They had never met, but Ben was in awe and behaved like a teenager meeting his idol. He cleared tables, moved furnitures around until Blake could sit comfortably.
‘I see you have a piano, Webster. Do you still play? You were quite good at it once, I remember.’
‘Oh well, no I don’t play Sir… I…’
‘Let me hear, play ‘Caroline Shout’ for us.’
‘If I insist’ said Blake with a big smile now.
‘Ahh well…’ Webster sat, played a few figures at the piano, but gave up, obviously very nervous.
‘Go on’ said Blake ‘You still have the touch’
So Ben struggled a few bars more but got up and went for a beer for us. ‘No thanks, not for me, but some fresh water…. It’s so good here in Denmark, please’.
‘ I understand that you are playing the saxophone now’, asked Eubie Blake. ‘Is that going well?’
‘Much better than the piano… matter of fact I have been playing sax for quite a while now..’
‘Yes, I know you were with Fletcher and Ellington…what happened after those days?’
‘Well, Ben began….’It really isn’t important. What I would like, please, if YOU would play on the small piano there…’
So Blake got up, stretched his grand hands, sat down and played some of his own songs, all with elegance and a friendly gesture, one of the numbers were a fast stride….
‘ Sir, excuse me’ said Ben.’ Could you please play ‘Memories of You’…?
‘That will cost you another glass of water’, said Blake and played and Webster’s eyes got wet…
After this they became Friends, and Blake was brought into town three or four times to visit Ben. One time was in a radio studio were Jan Persson took the now famous picture.
Was anything recorded there? I don’t know, really.
Henrik Iversen remembering…
A photographer, a fan, a legend...
The library of the University of Southern Denmark has produced a 64-page publication that deals with the library’s numerous collections of jazz material. The book is illustrated with photos by jazz collector/fan Timme Rosenkrantz, jazz photographer Ole Brask and jazz musician Ben Webster. Frank Büchmann Møller, member of the Ben Webster Foundation, is co-author.
Photo: Ole Brask
Read the publication here.
Ben Webster live 1971
Stardust. Jazzhus Montmartre, Copenhagen, February 28, 1971.
Ben Webster ts, Charlie Shavers tp, Niels Jørgen Steen p, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen b, Jørn Elniff dr.
Charles Lloyd has send us this photo of Ben Webster and John Coltrane.
The photographer, Mr. Carvara explains: “Ben Webster had come to see Coltrane play at Birdland. By 1960, when this photograph was taken, Trane was the leading figure and Ben was past his prime, so people feel there's this conflict going on. But in fact they were just ecstatic. It was Trane who was feeling the most emotion because this was his father, this was the great Ben Webster.”
Charles Lloyd meditates at Ben Websters gravesight after he was nominated as Honorary Member of the Foundation last summer.
Drummer Ole Streenberg received the Ben Webster Honorary Prize in 2016
Ole Streenberg repaid the compliment with a concert featuring the fine Italian tenor saxophonist, Emanuele Cisi, Ben Besiakow on piano and Jesper Lundgaard on bass. Later in the evening Ole Streenberg and Alex Riel raised the roof in a terrific drum battle. No winner was announced, but most of those in attendance agreed the encounter ended in a draw.
Read the new article about Ben Webster and Billie Holiday’s 1956?1956-57? recordings.