Benny Carter, born Bennett Lester Carter on August 8, 1907, in New York City, was an influential American jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, trumpeter, composer, arranger, and bandleader. His career spanned nearly eight decades, from the 1920s to the 1990s, earning him the nickname “The King” in recognition of his vast contributions to the world of jazz.
Carter began playing the piano at a young age, but soon switched to the saxophone and trumpet. He first gained attention as a member of the Charlie Johnson band in the 1920s. As his reputation grew, Carter joined Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra, one of the most prominent bands of the era, where he became the lead alto saxophonist and made significant contributions as a composer and arranger.
In 1932, Carter formed his own big band and achieved considerable success both in the United States and Europe. He relocated to Europe in the mid-1930s, spending several years in Paris, London, and Scandinavia, where he continued to perform and record with leading musicians of the time.
Upon returning to the United States in 1938, Carter re-formed his big band and continued to thrive as a performer, composer, and arranger. He made significant contributions to the Hollywood film industry, composing and arranging music for numerous movies and television shows. In the 1960s, he focused more on small-group recordings, showcasing his skills as a saxophonist and trumpeter.
Throughout his career, Carter received numerous awards and honors, including the NEA Jazz Masters Award in 1986, the highest honor in jazz, and a lifetime achievement Grammy Award in 1987. He was also awarded an honorary doctorate from Princeton University in 1974.
Benny Carter’s impact on jazz music is immeasurable. His innovative compositions, arrangements, and performances have left a lasting impression on the genre, influencing countless musicians and earning him a place among the greats in the world of jazz. Carter passed away on July 12, 2003, but his legacy continues to inspire and captivate jazz enthusiasts worldwide.
Page last updated 3/18/2023.