To those who have only recently developed
an interest in the music of Benny Carter, Hal Schaefer
or both, their alliance in the present album may come
as a surprise. Only the aficionados who have been
following the scene since before Fabian was born will
recall that in those golden days Carter and Schaefer
worked together, and will recognize in their collaboration
here a long-awaited reunion.
With the music two two Cole Porter
scores as a catalytic agent, the two men whose paths
had not crossed in seventeen years met in a New York
recording studio recently to produce an album that
reflects both the common characteristics and the variances
in their musical personalities.
Both are protean talents. Carter's
chief identification among fans and musicians has
been as an alto saxophonist, though he has functioned
to superb effect as composer-arranger, bandleader,
trumpet player, and occasionally as clarinetist, pianist,
trombonist. Hal, chiefly known as an arranger and
pianist, is a composer of skill and originality, worked
in the film mills as a vocal coach and served United
Artists as a musical director and recording supervisor.
"I first got to know Banny when
I worked in his big band, for several months in 1942,"
Hal recalls. "I believe I was not quite seventeen
years old when I joined him." (Hal might have
added that he already had two years of road band experience
behind him. Born in New York City, he graduated from
the High School of Music and Art at 15, toured briefly
with Lee Castle and extensively with Ina Ray Hutton
before settling in Los Angeles, where he joined Benny.)
The Carter band of that era was an
incubator for more potential jazz stars than any other
orchestra then on the scene. One of the members during
Hal's tenure was an 18-year-old trombonist named J.J.
"I didn't do any writing for
the band," says Hal, "but Benny's arrangements
were a great inspiration to me.
"Harmonically, my ideas in those
days were pretty much along the same lines as my present
playing, so I used to get a lot of kidding from Benny;
he would tell me I was playing 25th Century music.
But if I played a solo he liked, he'd call out to
the band, 'Hey, let Buck Rogers take another chorus!'
"Benny and I became good friends
and respected one another musically. The idea of getting
together for an LP was something we'd been talking
about for years - in fact, almost ever since I left
The pattern decided upon for the
session was a simple one designed to furnish a suitable
showcase for the writing and playing of both men.
The tunes from Can-Can were allotted to Hal
to arrange and are assembled on one side of the disc;
on the reverse side are Benny's arrangements of the
Anything Goes songs.
On the Can-Can numbers the
personnel, in addition to Benny and Hal, includes
Joe Benjamin on bass; Gus Johnson, the former Basie
drummer; and Teddy Sommer, a utility percussion man
who plays xylophone, chimes and anything else required
to be struck except the scenery.
"We tried to get a lot out of
this instrumentation," says Hal. "The idea
was to give us plenty of room to express our own personalities
as soloists but also to give the whole thing an organized
The technique becomes clear immediately
with I Love Paris, a novel and colorful arrangement
for which Hal ensured authenticity by renting a set
of taxi horns. The gimmickry, of course, is used only
as a peg on which to hang a performance that is musically
valid throughout, swinging from the first moments
of Benjamin's walking bass.
C'est Magnifique opens with
a quote from the Lohengrin wedding march - coincidentally
a gambit employed by Benny in Waltz Down the Aisle;
neither knew what the other had written until Benny
arrived in New York on the plane from L.A. and went
almost directly to the studio. That's a "glokenspiel"
you'll hear in the introduction and in later passages.
Notice how the bass doubles the melody line with Benny's
alto during the opening chorus.
It's All Right With Me is
an arrangement rich in harmonic and percussive ingenuity,
with Sommer playing tympani and later bongos, the
latter providing a Latin undercurrent to Benny's typically
fluent and eloquent ad lib chorus. Notice the two-part
lines that provide piano and alto with parallel movements
during the ensembles.
Allez-Vous En was the only
tune on the LP for which Benny, unfamiliar with the
melody, had to learn the harmonic pattern. Hal's background
for the opening provides this track with a second
melody that started out as just a counterpoint idea
but wound up acquiring a personality of its own. Hal
plays gently and sympathetically behind the Carter
I Am In Love, after a bass-and-drum
vamp, shows Benny circling around in half tones from
Hal's lines. The tension of the opening chorus breaks
as Benny moves into an improvised passage. Hal's solo
later is rhythmically complex, a fascinating sample
of the ingenuity of his style.
The Carter-arranged Anything
Goes features a similar instrumentation. Gus
Johnson is again present; John Drew replaces Benjamin
and Teddy Charles is on vibes. Anything Goes
is a brightly paced opener in which solos by Benny,
Hal and Teddy, as well as a brief interlude of walking
bass, are enclosed by a simple framework of arrangement.
All Through the Night opens
with a chorus in which Hal lays out entirely while
John Drew walks through the alto-and-vibes exposition
of the melody. Benny is superlative and Hal has one
of his swingingest solos on this effectively moody
Waltz Down the Aisle is
a novel combination of time signatures: the last four
measures of each statement of the main 16-measure
strain are in 3/4, the rest in 4/4. Hal's solo here
is perhaps his most dramatic and inventive of the
Buddy Beware is an atypical
Porter song, with an old-timey flavor that contrasts
strikingly with the average sophisticated Porter melody.
It enables Benny to offer some of the most soulful
statements heard from his alto in this set, even when
he is merely offering a slight deviation from straight
You're the Top again provides
an elegant blend of prepration and improvisation;
dainty when designed for daintiness, it swings when
it is supposed to swing, which is often.
The overall impression of this album
is a happy one: here are two gifted, schooled musicians
who, without resorting to unneeded complexities, produced
a series of beautifully integrated performances that
do justice not only to the writing and playing gifts
of Benny and Hal but to the melodic concepts of Porter.
It is to be hoped that the team of Carter & Schaefer
is due for many more such reunions.
(Author of The Encyclopedia of Jazz)