Benny Carter: The Princeton Concerts

The National Jazz Museum in Harlem is proud to announce a new series of never-before-heard concert recordings featuring the legendary Benny Carter, joined by such giants as Dizzy Gillespie, Hank Jones, Clark Terry, Richard Davis, Milt Hinton, Grady Tate, and many others.

Carter (1907-2003) was not only a pioneering jazz saxophonist/composer/bandleader, but also played a major role in integrating the Hollywood studio system in the 1940s; as Quincy Jones put it “he was the pioneer, he was the foundation.”

Benny Carter: The Princeton Concerts is an eight-album series recorded at Carter’s request and until now, unissued. Although he received many distinguished awards (among the National Medal of the Arts, multiple Grammys, and the Kennedy Center Award), it was the doctorate bestowed by Princeton University in 1974 that he especially treasured. Invited and encouraged by Professor Morroe Berger, Carter not only grew close to the school as he led many classes and seminars, but also to the Berger family. Out of that relationship came the monumental biography and cultural history Benny Carter: A Life In American Music (written by Berger, his son Ed, and James Patrick) and the music presented here, recorded by Berger’s son, Ken.

Across these eight albums, Carter leads small groups and one all-star big band comprised of some of the greatest jazz musicians of all time. The intensity and interaction with a live audience always brought out the best in Carter and each concert has its own unique moments of inspired improvisation. He effortlessly reveals his mastery of the alto saxophone, the elegance of compositions, and his graciousness as a bandleader in giving generous space to his compatriots.

All, save two, were recorded at Princeton between 1972 and 1983. There is a brilliant 1978 evening captured in Buffalo that features one of the only recordings of the legendary pianist Al Tinney, whose role in the creation of bebop in the early 1940s has long been heralded by historians, but who went largely unrecorded during his long career. The collection set ends chronologically with music from the 90-year-old Carter, playing with astounding freshness and creativity, backed by pianist Chris Neville and bassist Steve LaSpina, who were in Carter’s last band.

Mrs. Hilma Carter has made a gift of this music to the National Jazz Museum in Harlem to support their mission of preserving, promoting, and presenting jazz. It is her wish that the music be made available free of charge, and the museum is placing it across the world’s most popular streaming services. In addition, visitors are always welcome (by appointment) to hear the music at the museum.

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