Benny Carter
Songwriter

Although his legacy as a songwriter may have been eclipsed by his vast accomplishments as soloist and arranger, Carter has been writing songs as long as he has been arranging and almost as long as he has been playing. The first recording of a Carter song dates back to January 1928, coincidentally the date of his first recorded solo and arrangement. A collaborator on that first composition, "Nobody Knows How Much I Love You," was none other than Fats Waller, and it was sung by a "Johnny Thompson," which turned out to be a pseudonym for the distinguished lyricist Andy Razaf.

Since then, Carter has turned out hundreds of songs in every conceivable idiom: from ballads to blues, bossa novas to waltzes, love songs to novelties. This facet of his talent has not received the attention it deserves, with a few notable exceptions. "When Lights Are Low," which Carter wrote in England in 1936, has become a popular and jazz standard, as did the even earlier "Blues in My Heart."

His somewhat uncharacteristic "Cow Cow Boogie" was a huge wartime

 

 

hit; the famous recording by Ella Mae Morse helped establish Capitol Records.

Carter's lovely bossa nova, "Only Trust Your Heart," was immortalized by Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto. The sheer melodic appeal of his writing has attracted an astonishingly diverse array of singers and instrumentalists: from Eubie Blake to Kenny Barron, Guy Lombardo to Eric Dolphy, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald to the Judds.

After collaborating with such noted lyricists as Spencer Williams, Johnny Mercer and Sammy Cahn, Carter has increasingly served as his own lyricist in as meticulous a fashion as he is in his placement of notes.

In 1995, MusicMasters Records embarked on a project to bring Carter's song-writing gifts to the fore, resulting in the two-volume "Benny Carter Songbook," which includes some thirty Carter songs--old and new--with Carter as featured soloist behind sixteen of some of jazz's more illustrious singers.

Musical Selection: "Fresh Out of Love," Diana Krall vocal, from The Benny Carter Songbook, Volume 1, MusciMasters 0612-65134-2 (1996).


 

Sheet music:Palm Beach Mood, 1936. Sheet music: "Palm Beach Mood," 1936.
Benny Carter joins Diana Krall and Chris Neville during 1995 recording session for The Benny Carter Songbook.(Photo by Laurence Berger) Pianist Chris Neville and Diana Krall join Carter during 1995 recording session for "The Benny Carter Songbook." (Photo by Laurence Berger)
Sheet music: Nightfall, 1936. Sheet music: "Nightfall," 1936.
Joe Williams and Dianne Reeves listen to a playback of WE WERE IN LOVE with Carter during 1995 recording of Benny Carter Songbook. (Photo by Laurence Berger) Joe Williams and Dianne Reeves listen to a playback of "We Were in Love" with Carter during 1995 recording of "Benny Carter Songbook." (Photo by Laurence Berger)
Sheet music: Shoot the Works, 1934. Sheet music: "Shoot the Works," 1934.
Peggy Lee made one of her rare late recordings when she joined forces with Carter in 1995 on the first volume of the Benny Carter Songbook (Photo by Laurence Berger) Peggy Lee made one of her rare late recordings when she joined forces with Carter in 1995 on the first volume of the "Benny Carter Songbook." (Photo by Laurence Berger)
Sheet music: Scandal in A-Flat, 1936. Sheet music: "Scandal in A-Flat," 1936.
Benny Carter: Eight Decades in American Music

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