[Dixielandjazz] elegant

ROBERT R. CALDER serapion at btinternet.com
Thu Jul 18 13:13:37 PDT 2013

The word 'elegant' crops up in the pastiche of a ragtime song in T.S. Eliot's 
"it's so elegant, so intelligent, 
that Shakespeherian rag..."

The elegance of Benny Carter's alto playing involves magnificent examples of what can't be 
done on the instrument: I could still remember enough of the individuality of the alto 
when in company with a saxophonist not unknown to Ken Mathieson I went to see and hear
Benny at a gig with a wonderful drummer. 
Time and again a phrase would appear, musically impressive, intelligent and elegant, very far from asmanynotesasabarcanhold -- and I would turn with dropped jaw and find my neighbour turned toward me with jaw dropped even lower, because in each case BC had produced a line against a natural progression at the end of which -- the middle of BC's phrase -- anybody else's reed would squawk --
I think it was Carterian elegance which marked out Russell Procope's alto playing with John Kirby and with Ellington, and rather confined it in comparison with his earlier work on clarinet, 

but the greatness of Benny Carter was in everything else he could do, in addition. 

But how far did he also pioneer elegance in jazz? With his mastery of the harmonics of the reed instruments he played. Listen also to the amazing command of piano sonority in his introduction to a Hawkins tenor masterpiece he makes the piano sing. 

BC's later playing showed signs of his having learned from Willie Smith. He could LEARN too. 

And then there's that lovely Julia Lee recording on which BC trades phrases on trombone with Vic Dickenson. Nothing inelegant there, and nothing inappropriate from any urge to sound elegant.  

And then there was his lovely quip about a note he heard Miles Davis play, and which he liked so much he hunted for it until he finally decided it wasn't on his trumpet. 

"and a great dresser, too," as Herb Ellis said in introducing BC 

Robert R. Calder

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