Ben Webster

If a jazz improvisation is its performer’s personality, as Duke Ellington once said, then Ben Webster was one of the greatest personalities in all American art of the twentieth century. I would put him alongside William Carlos Williams,

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Edward Hopper,

and Frank Lloyd Wright.

If a jazz improvisation is primarily a phenomenon of black culture, then I would say – if I have a right to, and I think I have – that Ben Webster, beginning with the blues and developing everything implicit in them, gave us the single most expressive articulation of African-American experience and feeling in our civilization. Yes, speaking for myself, I would place him above Bessie Smith, Langston Hughes, Billie Holiday, June Jordan, Toni Morrison, or anyone else . . . Listen to Ben Webster. The longer you listen, the more appreciative you will become – I can almost guarantee it, whatever your tastes may be. You will continually discover new subtleties of feeling in his work. They are there, along with many things that aren’t subtle at all and require no sophisticated study. Ben Webster was one of the truly great. Everyone needs his music.

– Hayden Carruth, Sitting In

Notice that Big Ben is shedding tears after Teddy Wilson’s solo. I was shedding them after his.

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3 Responses to Ben Webster

  1. Mary says:

    This is a real thing that I did.

    I am sorry
    That I
    the last Bulkie Roll

    You were
    saving them
    to have
    Bulkie rolls
    with ham

    And that
    I knew
    the last
    Bulkie rolls

    But I did
    eat the last
    Bulkie Rolls
    with ham

    • Scott Samuelson says:

      Mary, you are better than William Carlos Williams. Bulkie Rolls with ham – so poppy-seedy and so hammy.

  2. Pingback: Bessie Smith (Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out, 1929) « Throughhisown's Weblog

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