The Ben Webster Collection at the Music Department of University Library of Southern Denmark contains many private recordings by Webster. Some are on tapes, but some are cut on acetates, among them some gems with a quintet from the Ellington band.

The session
During the Ellington Bands long stay on the West Coast from late May to early December 1941, Ben Webster got to know a man who owned a machine to cut records, so called acetates.
Webster took the opportunity to make several records of himself alone on clarinet, tenor saxophone and piano, plus a quartet session with Ray Nance on violin and trumpet, Fred Guy on guitar and Sonny Greer on brushes, and a quintet session with the same four plus Jimmie Blanton on bass. Blanton got hospitalized with tuberculosis in November 1941, and as one of the other sides with him contains president Roosevelt’s speech to the nation after the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941,  we can date the recordings with Blanton to late autumn 1941, and they may be the very last he made.

The music
The quintet recorded three songs, I Never Knew, The Sheik of Araby, andI Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me. Nance plays trumpet and Webster plays tenor saxophone on the first track. Webster is inspired, building his solo well with growing intensity in each of his choruses. After solos by Nance and Blanton, the plugs are pulled for the conclusion of the number with an eight-bar ride-out. On The Sheik of Araby, the trumpet is replaced by the violin, and the saxophone with a clarinet. Webster plays lead, and Nance solos first. Both play two rounds of solos, followed by Blanton who opens with nice variation of Webster’s concluding figure. Webster plays with increasing intensity, like on the previous number, and many of the figures are reminiscent of what he plays on the saxophone. His second solo is growling and dynamic, and each figure is timed expertly, creating an outstanding swing.
Webster is back on the saxophone on the last song, and he interprets the melody, supported by Nance who is still on the violin. Nance solos first, followed by Webster. During the transition, Blanton shows his great understanding of counterpoint. Knowing that Webster usually opens with phrases somewhere between the middle and low range, he chooses to accompany in the high register in the first bars of Webster’s solo. The tune contains incredible drive and swing in a medium tempo, and Webster holds back on dynamic effects, concentrating on sustaining the swing instead. Every phrase is delivered with authority, and he has difficulty getting himself to stop, but finally he finds a natural ending during the last collectively played chorus. The energy and powerful swing of the rhythm section, and the simple, but effective playing on the part of the two soloists produces a take that can be heard again and again.

This music plus four numbers by the quartet without Blanton can be found on: Ray Nance: When We’re Alone. The complete 1940-1949 non-ducal violin recordings featuring Ben Webster clarinet transcriptions. AB Fable ABCD1-014.

Frank Büchmann-Møller
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