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Dig Ben!

Dig Ben!

by Ben Webster Ben Webster


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When tenor saxophonist Ben Webster left the U.S. to reside in Europe, it was for two reasons -- opportunity and respect. He was financially more able to make his mark there, as a living legend, in a position where many other African-American jazzmen would follow his lead. This eight-CD box set from the Storyville label documents many recordings he did for the company -- in live club settings, mostly in Denmark, but also England, Finland, Sweden, and Germany. There are studio dates from radio sessions; various small ensembles (primarily quartets); two full CDs of big bands in rehearsals or with completed finished product (one of the big-band CDs including strings); and collaborations with such notables as Teddy Wilson, Buck Clayton, Dexter Gordon, and Clark Terry. Also included are a handful of stateside sessions before he moved, one rare recording of him playing stride piano, duets with bassist Milt Hinton, some drummerless trios, and previously unissued material. What you get is a potpourri of his works including swing standards, a little bop, blues, original jam tunes, and of course the ballads that identify him as a true master of the idiom. Generally, Webster still sounds pretty good, with his full tone and cool persona intact. The time line starts with short American studio recordings of 1959-1962 and East Coast dates in 1963-1964, moving to Ronnie Scott's club in London during 1964 and then to greater Northern Europe from 1965 until his death in Holland in 1973. The downside is that the collection is not programmed with much continuity or cohesion. Tracks leap from year to year with different bands, you don't really hear a progression of his style in Europe, and the club dates have Webster's tenor often "in the red," or distorted. You do hear his fluid technique and slightly extrapolated, witty melody lines, but not the cleanliness of his pure sound. The best sessions, which unfortunately also display the less-than-optimal opportunity to hear Webster himself, are the live dates from the Café Monmartre in Copenhagen, Denmark, a city where Webster resided (Amsterdam being the other), and one cut from the Pori Jazz Festival in Finland. Fellow expatriates pianist Kenny Drew and drummer Al Heath join with Webster and the great Danish bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen to form the nucleus of as solid a jazz quartet as one can get. There are also nights where either Rune Carlsson or Alex Riel replace Heath. The brief collaborations with Gordon work extremely well, with Clayton (in Antwerp, 1967, on the fifth CD) not so much, and alongside Terry there's a bit of magic. Webster worked frequently with local piano-bass-drums combos, too -- British pianist Stan Tracey, Swedish pianist Lars Sjösten, and briefly Camille de Ceunynck being the most effective accompanists. Trumpeters Rolf Ericson and Arne Ryskog are also good foils for Webster. On the seventh CD, the stock chart collaboration with the Danish Radio Big Band provides the most refined and populist music, while the eighth CD with the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra rehearsal sessions is ragged at best, producing only a scant few finished pieces with vocalist Matty Peters and Webster cutting up, but finalizing little polished music. Of the recordings done in the U.S., there are club sets in Providence, RI, in 1963 with the Mike Renzi Trio that have a raw edge production-wise, while the older studio masters or alternate takes of Webster's originals, the blues tune "Poutin'" and bopper "Randle's Island" (on the eighth CD) with a quartet featuring pianist Jimmy Rowles, bassist Leroy Vinnegar, and drummer Mel Lewis, are complete, but in need of editing or redoing. The third CD, with 11 tracks, sports the most spirited playing, at Ronnie Scott's with Tracey, bassist Rick Laird, and drummer Jackie Dougan. They breeze through "Gone with the Wind," Charlie Parker's evergreen bop icon "Confirmation" (credited as written by Dizzy Gillespie, correctly identified in the liner notes), "Poutin'," the well-done "A Night in Tunisia," and "How High the Moon." The first CD has the Webster-Drew-Heath-Pedersen combo from 1968 playing effortlessly, while the third CD has them in the studio for "How High the Moon," while CD number four features the alternate drummers from 1965-1966, with marked sound improvement, doing great versions of "Pennies from Heaven," "In a Mellotone," and particularly a rousing version of "Sunday." There are recordings from Stampen in Stockholm with several different mixes of American and European rhythm sections, especially 1971 where Sjösten, bassist Red Mitchell, and drummer Fredrik Noren appear, with Ericson and Noren in a quintet from 1969 -- check out their take of "C Jam Blues." The sixth CD has these sides from Stampen as well as Ahus, the precious Clark Terry features including "Satin Doll" and the light blues stomp "Things Ain't What They Used to Be." The Ahus recordings with Wilson, Ryskog, and drummer Ed Thigpen are a bit unsure and tentative. True standout recordings are with Dexter Gordon on CDs five and seven doing Duke Ellington's music in the studio, or jamming at the Monmartre. There are four versions of "Perdido" in the box, the best with Gordon and pianist Thomas Clausen's trio in Flensbourg, Germany; another four of "Cotton Tail," one with big band and strings; three of "Our Love Is Here to Stay"; and several "The Theme" set closers, one at over five minutes. The worst recordings are with the Steen Vig band from 1966, muffled and distant, especially from the guest star/lead horn. The accompanying booklet, with many photos and historical information, notes, and quotes, is priceless. It speaks of Webster's fear of flying and other quirks, his hobbies (there's a great photo of Webster shooting billiards), the abject reverence other musicians had for him, and his status as "the hidden king of jazz" in the later years of his life. While not essential or definitive, this box is certainly worth the price, as each CD has nearly 80 minutes of music, and is an item completist fans of Webster will surely want.

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Product Details

Release Date: 10/16/2007
Label: Storyville Records
UPC: 0717101860128
catalogNumber: 1088601
Rank: 142318


Disc 1

  1. Johnny Come Lately
  2. Perdido
  3. Autumn Leaves
  4. Old Folks
  5. Mack the Knife
  6. Sunday
  7. Come Sunday
  8. Our Love Is Here to Stay
  9. The Theme

Disc 2

  1. On Green Dolphin Street
  2. Bye, Bye Blackbird
  3. Love Come Back to Me
  4. Wee Dot
  5. Tenderly
  6. Sometimes I'm Happy
  7. Embraceable You
  8. The Theme
  9. Sophisticated Lady
  10. Stridin' with Ben
  11. All the Things You Are
  12. I Can't Believe That You're in Love with Me
  13. I Got It Bad
  14. Our Blues

Disc 3

  1. Danny Boy
  2. Intro Ronnie Scott
  3. Blues in B Flat
  4. Stardust
  5. Gone with the Wind
  6. The Theme
  7. Confirmation
  8. Poutin'
  9. A Night in Tunisia
  10. Over the Rainbow
  11. How High the Moon
  12. Willow Weep for Me
  13. Perdido

Disc 4

  1. Pennies from Heaven
  2. Blues in B Flat
  3. In a Mellotone
  4. Sunday
  5. Cotton Tail
  6. Gone with the Wind
  7. Cotton Tail
  8. My Romance
  9. Cotton Tail
  10. In a Mellotone
  11. How Long Has This Been Going On?

Disc 5

  1. C Jam Blues
  2. My Romance
  3. Our Love Is Here to Stay
  4. Avalon
  5. Chelsea Bridge
  6. Danny Boy
  7. How High the Moon
  8. How Long Has This Been Going On?
  9. B-Flat Blues
  10. Medley: How Long Has Thing Been Going On?/Sophisticated Lady
  11. In a Mellotone
  12. For Heavens Sake

Disc 6

  1. C Jam Blues
  2. Don't Get Around Much Anymore
  3. The Theme
  4. Old Folks
  5. Satin Doll
  6. Things Ain't What They Used to Be
  7. I've Got Rhythm
  8. Satin Doll
  9. Indiana

Disc 7

  1. Things Ain't What They Used to Be
  2. Cotton Tail
  3. Greensleeves
  4. Rockin' in Rhythm
  5. Stompy Jones
  6. Cry Me a River
  7. Bojangles
  8. Perdido
  9. Our Love Is Here to Stay
  10. Ain't Misbehavin'
  11. Mop Mop
  12. Our Love Is Here to Stay
  13. Perdido

Disc 8

  1. Did You Call Her Today
  2. Did You Call Her Today
  3. Did You Call Her Today
  4. Did You Call Her Today
  5. Did You Call Her Today
  6. Did You Call Her Today
  7. Did You Call Her Today
  8. Did You Call Her Today
  9. Baby It's Cold Outside
  10. Baby It's Cold Outside
  11. Baby It's Cold Outside
  12. Cotton Tail
  13. Old Folks
  14. Old Folks
  15. Old Folks
  16. Old Folks
  17. Old Folks
  18. Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone
  19. The Song Is Ended
  20. Poutin'
  21. Poutin'
  22. Poutin'
  23. Randle's Island
  24. Randle's Island
  25. Randle's Island

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Ben Webster   Primary Artist,Piano,Saxophone,Tenor Saxophone
Thomas Clausen   Piano
Kenny Drew   Piano
Rick Laird   Bass
Mel Lewis   Drums
Red Mitchell   Bass
Jimmy Rowles   Piano
Teddy Wilson   Piano
Palle Mikkelborg   Trumpet
Lars Sjösten   Piano
Ed Thigpen   Drums
Jesper Thilo   Reeds,Saxophone
Stan Tracey   Piano
Bo Stief   Bass
Atli Bjørn   Piano
Palle Bolvig   Trumpet
Allan Botschinsky   Trumpet
Erling Christensen   Reeds,Strings,Saxophone
Clark Terry   Trumpet
Jackie Dougan   Drums
Vagn Elsberg   Trumpet
Rolf Ericson   Trumpet
Albert "Tootie" Heath   Drums
Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen   Bass
Milt Hinton   Bass
Ole Kurt Jensen   Trombone
Uffe Karskov   Reeds,Saxophone
Perry Knudsen   Trumpet
Svend Lundvig   Trumpet
Flemming Madsen   Reeds,Saxophone
Ole Molin   Guitar
Makaya Ntshoko   Drums
Ray Pitts   Conductor
Hugo Rasmussen   Bass
Mike Renzi   Piano
Alex Riel   Drums
Bjarne Rostvold   Conga,Drums
William Schiopffe   Drums
Sahib Shihab   Reeds
Leroy Vinnegar   Bass
Axel Windfel   Trombone
Finn Ziegler   Strings
Kurt J. Jensen   Strings
Ole Kock Hansen   Piano
Svend Blankholm   Strings
Camille de Ceunynck   Piano
Per Espersen   Trombone
Henry Henkel   Trumpet
Poul Jorgensen   Trombone
Anton Kontra   Strings
Arne Lamberth   Trumpet
Per Ludolph   Strings
Sture Nordin   Bass
Charlie Pauvels   Drums
Hans Schwenger   Strings
John Steffensen   Conga
Ove Winther   Strings
Steen Vig   Tenor Saxophone
Borge Madsen   Strings
Jens Solund   Bass
Aage Bertelsen   Strings
Leif Johansson   Drums
Bent Juul Nielsen   Reeds,Saxophone
Heige Willer-Nielsen   Strings
Stanley Carlson   Strings
Svend Aage Andersen   Strings
Mogens Holm Larsen   Strings
Torben Munk   Guitar
Freddy Albeck   Vocals
Matty Peters   Vocals
Holger Bjerre   Strings
Bobby Brooks   Drums
Nuck Clayton   Trumpet
Helmuth Hjorth Hansen   Trombone
Bjørn Jensen   Guitar
H. Bjerregaard Jenssen   Strings
Poul Kelgård   Trombone
Torolf Mølgård   Trombone
Bob Petterutti   Bass
Arne Ryskog   Trumpet
Bent Schjærff   Piano
Lasse Sjösten   Piano
Tony Vaes   Bass
Joe Veletri   Drums
Rune Carlsson   Drums
Ib Glindemann   Conductor

Technical Credits

George Gershwin   Composer
Sigmund Romberg   Composer
Kurt Weill   Composer
Irving Berlin   Composer
Hoagy Carmichael   Composer
Miles Davis   Composer
Dizzy Gillespie   Composer
Fats Waller   Composer
Ben Webster   Composer
Irving Mills   Composer
Jimmy McHugh   Composer
Vincent Youmans   Composer
Harold Arlen   Composer
Richard Rodgers   Composer
Ned Miller   Composer
Coleman Hawkins   Composer
Bronislaw Kaper   Composer
Andy Razaf   Composer
Jerome Kern   Composer
Frank Loesser   Composer
Harry Carney   Composer
Chester Cohn   Composer
Ervin Drake   Composer
Duke Ellington   Composer
Ira Gershwin   Composer
Oscar Hammerstein   Composer
Arthur Hamilton   Composer
Nancy Hamilton   Composer
E.Y. "Yip" Harburg   Composer
Lorenz Hart   Composer
Ray Henderson   Composer
Benny Krueger   Composer
Herbert Magidson   Composer
Ballard MacDonald   Composer
Johnny Mercer   Composer
Hans Nielsen   Engineer
Mitchell Parish   Composer
Jacques Prévert   Composer
Vincent Rose   Composer
Bob Russell   Composer
Sam H. Stept   Composer
Billy Strayhorn   Composer
Jule Styne   Composer
Juan Tizol   Composer
Ned Washington   Composer
Paul Francis Webster   Composer
Niels Jorgen Steen   Arranger
Harry Brooks   Composer
Arthur Johnston   Composer
Willard Robison   Composer
Ann Ronell   Composer
Anders Stefansen   Producer
Joseph Kosma   Composer
Mort Dixon   Composer
Sidney Clare   Composer
Dedette Lee Hill   Composer
Morgan Lewis   Composer
Bent Kauling   Liner Notes
Traditional   Composer
Henrik Wolscaard-Iversen   Liner Notes
Steve Schein   English Translations
Claus Albrechtsen   Drawing
Frank Büchmann Møller   Liner Notes
Frederick Edward Weatherly   Composer
James Hanley   Composer

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