In Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers, I wrote this about the tenor saxophonist Ben Webster:
In the beginning his playing was modeled closely on the dramatic, sweeping, even grandiose, style of (Coleman) Hawkins. But over time, Webster pared away embellishments and rococo elements, while maintaining warmth and a big tone, and created a style that with force and clarity appeals directly to the emotions. Or, as the critic Martin Williams put it, Webster became a great soloist when “he accepted the limitations of his fingers and embouchure and became a simple and eloquent melodist.”
All of that came to mind when I ran across a piece of video of Webster playing in Europe with Oscar Peterson, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and Tony Inzalaco. Webster could be cantankerous, intimidating; one of his nicknames was The Brute. When he wasn’t drinking, he was gentle. Look for the expression on Peterson’s face when Ben’s solo ends. It is emblematic of how other musicians reacted to Webster’s playing — and how they still do. Ben Webster died in Holland in 1973 not long after this video was made. The piece is “Perdido.” The picture quality is far higher than much internet video, so if you can watch if full-screen, please do. Here’s the link.
Go here and here for previous Rifftides posts about Ben Webster.