Ben Webster Photography

Ben Webster

Ben Webster was born in Kansas City, Missouri, where he grew up playing violin and piano, but settled on the tenor saxophone. Known affectionately as “The Brute,” or “Frog,” for his tough, raspy tone, Webster is considered one of the three most important “swing tenors,” along with Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young.

In the 1920s and ’30s, Webster gained fame as one of jazz’s premier soloists through his work with numerous big bands. In 1940, he became a regular in Duke Ellington’s orchestra and a featured tenor sax soloist on many famous recordings, including “Cotton Tail” and “All Too Soon.” Throughout the 1940s and ’50s, Webster played alongside some of the greatest artists of the time, including Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra.

During the early 1960s, Webster had difficulty finding steady work in the U.S. In 1964, he landed a gig at Ronnie Scott’s club in London—and never returned to America again. He associated and performed with the community of other leading African-American jazz musicians who had emigrated to Europe, living in Amsterdam until his death in 1973.

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