In honor of “King” Benny Carter’s birthday, here’s an outstanding Harlem jazz record featuring one of his earliest recorded appearances, as well as a taste of his arranging talent.
Bennett Lester Carter was born in Harlem on August 8, 1907. As a child, he was taught piano by his mother, and was later inspired to by Bubber Miley to buy a trumpet. When he couldn’t play like Miley, he decided to take up the saxophone instead. Growing up playing jazz with the Harlem greats, Carter first recorded in 1928 with Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Ten, and played with Fletcher Henderson in the early 1930s. In 1931, he took over leadership of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers from Don Redman, who left to form his own orchestra, and followed in his footsteps the next year with a band of his own. In the 1930s, he began recording with a band under the moniker of the Chocolate Dandies, which had been previously used by a number of others. In 1935, as Louis Armstrong and a number of other jazz musicians had done previously, Carter traveled to Europe, where he played with the Ramblers, Django Reinhardt, and others before returning to the States in 1938. After returning home, he led another band and arranged prolifically. In 1942, Freddie Slack’s Orchestra made a hit with “Cow Cow Boogie”, which he wrote with Gene de Paul and Don Raye, and he moved to the West Coast in 1943. In 1973, Carter was a visiting professor at Princeton University for a semester. He continued to play until his retirement in 1997, bringing an end to an eight decade career, and he died in 2003 at the age of 95.
Victor 21491 was recorded January 24 and 10, 1928, respectively, in New York City. The Paradise Ten are made up of Jabbo Smith and Leonard Davis on trumpets Charlie Irvis on trombone, Benny Carter and Edgar Sampson on clarinet and alto sax, Elmer Harrell on clarinet and tenor sax, Charlie Johnson on piano, Bobby Johnson on banjo, Cyrus St. Clair on tuba, George Stafford on drums. Lloyd Scott’s orchestra on the flip-side consists of Gus McClung and Kenneth A. Roane on trumpet, Dicky Wells on trombone John Williams and Fletcher Allen on clarinet and alto sax, Cecil Scott on clarinet, tenor sax, and baritone sax, Don Frye on piano, Hubert Mann on piano, Chester Campbell on tuba, and Lloyd Scott on drums.
Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Ten took their name from Small’s Paradise in Harlem, where they played. Among their alumni were such luminaries as Jabbo Smith and Benny Carter, who made his first recordings with the band. Their superb “Charleston is the Best Dance After All” was arranged by Benny Carter.
Lloyd Scott’s Orchestra was another excellent Harlem band, that featured John Williams (husband of Mary Lou Williams) and Dicky Wells. Here they play trumpeter Kenneth A. Roane’s “Harlem Shuffle”.