Oct 17th – 23rd: Benny Carter guest appearance with EJE and ENJEOctober 17, 2022
1996: Benny Carter guest appearance with EJE and ENJE
Twenty-six years ago this week, on the evening of Friday, October 18th, 1996, the renowned Benny Carter, one of the undisputed all-time greats of jazz, appeared in concert with the Eastman Jazz Ensemble and the Eastman New Jazz Ensemble. Mr. Carter’s guest appearance continued the succession of guest appearances by jazz greats with the EJE and the ENJE; altogether, these have included Oliver Nelson (1972), Thad Jones (1973), Clark Terry (1980), Wynton Marsalis (1984), Branford Marsalis (1990), Bob Brookmeyer (1997), and Toots Thielemans (2000). EJE Director Fred Sturm would later be quoted as saying, “It was an incredible evening. Forty students took the stage. The folks in the audience felt like they were paying tribute to one of the real greats of history.” On the afternoon before the concert, the EJE rehearsed in Room 120 (today the Ray Wright Room) together with Mr. Carter; photographer Louis Ouzer was present that afternoon, and some of his B&W shots are presented here.
Benny Carter (1907-2003) enjoyed an unusually long career; he was in his 90th year at the time of his Eastman School appearance, and he made commercial recordings in eight different decades, from the 1920s to the ‘90s. His artistry was not confined to just one role; he was a talented performer on several instruments (tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, clarinet, and trumpet), and was especially noted for his pioneering artistry on the alto saxophone, on which he was considered one of the three greatest performers in the history of jazz, along with Johnny Hodges and Charlie Parker. He was both composer and arranger, and he was also a bandleader. His career was described in the biographical note printed in the October 18th, 1996 concert program, which is displayed here. It is worthwhile to note that his career is distinguished for its sheer longevity, for the profound influence that Mr. Carter had on jazz on two continents, and for his work towards eliminating racial barriers in the world of jazz, including having led the first-ever international, inter-racial band during his years in Europe.
The October, 1996 concert was further significant in that it had been promoted as a memorial concert for the late Will Moyle, a staunch supporter of Eastman jazz. Mr. Moyle, who had passed away the previous January, had been a longtime radio and television reporter in the Rochester area. He is warmly remembered today for his program Essence of Jazz that aired on public radio for twenty years up until his death. Essence of Jazz featured interviews with renowned artists, thereby providing a perspective from the performers’ standpoint. Guests on the program included Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Erroll Garner, George Shearing, and Benny Carter. When Mr. Carter made his 1996 appearance at Eastman, he fully remembered his interview with Mr. Moyle, and excused himself immediately after the concert in the Eastman Theater so as to go and pay his respects to Mr. Moyle’s widow. Today the program Essence of Jazz can once again be enjoyed on the air, thanks to a partnership between the Eastman School of Music, radio station WGMC Jazz 90.1 FM, and the late Mr. Moyle’s family. Currently, the show is broadcast each Saturday at 6pm on WGMC 90.1 FM. In addition, the Sibley Music Library holds discs of audio content transferred from analog tapes of the show that were the gift of the late Mr. Moyle’s family. This content can be accessed at the SML’s recordings stacks (3rd floor). A discographic description of the content is accessible in DiscoverUR; as of this writing, the extent of content currently numbers 145 discs, with further content to be added later.
A special aspect of the October 18th, 1996 concert was the EJE’s rendition, with soloists Jason Thor and Jason Polise, of Mr. Carter’s famous arrangement of the song “All of Me” by Seymour Simons and Gerald Marks. Mr. Carter’s arrangement was first recorded in 1936 by Willie Lewis and his Orchestra (Pathe), and soon thereafter by Benny Carter and his Orchestra in 1940. Professor Sturm had expressly wanted to expose the student performers to some of Mr. Carter’s most important work, but it so happened that the parts for “All of Me” had been missing for half a century, as Mr. Carter told Mr. Sturm. Undaunted, Mr. Sturm transcribed the arrangement so that the performance might proceed. The rendition of “All of Me” was introduced from the stage by Mr. Carter himself, who acknowledged that he was “greatly flattered” and continued, “Fred Sturm amazed me by taking it off of a 50-year-old recording and re-orchestrating it for this band. Well, I only wish my band had played it as well as he did.”
► In rehearsal in Room 120 (today the Ray Wright Room), Director Fred Sturm leads members of the Eastman Jazz Ensemble, and confers with guest artist Benny Carter. Photos by Louis Ouzer.
► Members of the Eastman Jazz Ensemble rehearse under Fred Sturm’s direction in Room 120 (today the Ray Wright Room) on October 17th, 1996. Photos by Louis Ouzer.
► On-stage in the Eastman Theater are members of the Eastman Jazz Ensemble, with guest artist Benny Carter, all led by director Fred Sturm. In the fourth shot, Jim Doser conducts the Eastman New Jazz Ensemble with soloist Mr. Carter. Photos by Louis Ouzer.
With thanks to my colleagues Rick McRae, Jim Farrington, and Robert Iannapollo for enlightening me regarding Benny Carter’s music. I particularly thank Vincent Pelote, Senior Archivist and Digital Preservation Strategist at the Institute of Jazz Studies of Rutgers University, for sharing his learned comments on Mr. Carter’s music and career. Mr. Pelote was one of the professionals whom Edward Berger acknowledged in his authoritative biography, Benny Carter: A Life in American Music, published by Scarecrow Press and the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University, c2002.
 “Jazz legend Benny Carter dazzles the crowd at inaugural Will Moyle Memorial Jazz Concert” in Eastman Notes, vol. 20, no. 17 (July 1997), page 6.
 The master tape of the October 18th, 1996 concert resides in the Eastman Audio Archive; CD service copies of the concert are accessible in the Sibley Music Library Recordings stacks under call numbers SDM 2129 and SDM 2130.