Some time ago, Eric Felten wrote in response to this item about Benny Carter. It’s about time that I posted his note and commented on it.
Just listening to his playing is a complete post-doctoral course in the power of melodicism in improvisation. Personally, I’m devoted to the session with Ben Webster and Frank Rosolino. When I first heard it I was giddy with the shock that anything so wonderful as a meeting of Ben, Frank and Benny existed. It still leaves me shaking my head.
You correctly mention that “When Lights Are Low” is Benny’s best-known tune. But it is still amazing to me the extent to which it is his best-incorrectly-known tune. Call it on the bandstand and 9 out of 10 players do the Miles bridge. Now when Miles chose to replace Benny’s bridge with the A section in a new key, that was an interesting and valid jazz permutation on the tune. But how many players nowadays know that that bridge was a permutation? How many know the original bridge (which has wonderful changes over which to blow)? Playing that tune is a rough and ready way of finding out whether musicians have taken the time to listen to Carter, or whether the Miles 50s canon (worthy as it is) is as far back as their jazz education goes.
Kudos on the fine job you’re doing with the site. I’m enjoying it a lot.
Instead of using the exquisite bridge that Carter wrote for the piece, Davis simply repeated the first eight bars, but in a-flat rather than e-flat. Why he did so is a puzzle. He played in Carter’s big band in the mid-forties and must have known the tune. It could hardly have been because the bridge was too complicated for John Coltrane, Red Garland and Paul Chambers. When I discussed this years ago with Marian McPartland, she became indignant. She said, “Oh! How could he have done that to Benny’s song?”
Good question. If you want to hear the bridge as written, you’ll find it on this album. If you want to hear the Miles Davis rewrite, it is on this one.