Benny Carter was one of the last living links to the golden age of jazz. Born in 1907, he made his first records in 1928, remaining active as a performer well into the Nineties, when I heard him at Iridium in what I gather was his last nightclub gig in Manhattan. (Amazingly enough, he was still playing quite well.) Though he’s best remembered as the suavest of alto saxophonists, Carter was no less distinctive as a composer and arranger. I also loved his tasty trumpet playing, a hobby he occasionally indulged in public, if never often enough. His lucid, balanced style and self-contained personality lacked the overt charisma that brings popularity to great artists–he was too much the gentleman to impose himself on his listeners–but connoisseurs and colleagues knew him for what he was, and rejoiced in his gifts.
If Carter made a bad record, I haven’t heard it, but Further Definitions, the 1961 album that teamed him with Coleman Hawkins and Jo Jones, two of his peerless contemporaries, captures him at close to his absolute best. I listened to “The Midnight Sun Will Never Set” when I got the news of his death in Los Angeles last Saturday. It seemed a proper way to say goodbye.