The centennial of Ben Webster's birth occurred in 2009 and producer Nick Phillips mined the vaults of various Concord-owned labels, including Pablo, Riverside, Contemporary, and Prestige/Swingville, to create this compilation featuring the late tenor saxophonist. One of the three giants of his instrument during the 1930s and 1940s (along with Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young), Webster was still very much at the top of his game when these sessions were recorded. When he took part in the series of small-group dates with Art Tatum, he refused to be intimidated by the pianist's intricate flourishes, simply delivering majestic solos in "My One and Only Love," "All the Things You Are," and "Have You Met Miss Jones." He's very comfortable with old friends Benny Carter and Barney Bigard in an easygoing setting of Carter's "Lula." The two live tracks, "Caravan" and "Georgia on My Mind" taken from At the Renaissance, also find Webster in an inspired mood, supported by a rhythm section including pianist Jimmy Rowles and guitarist Jim Hall.
In the 1950s, tenor-saxophonist Ben Webster was at the peak of his powers. His musical personality really featured two separate emotions: harsh and tough on the faster pieces and surprisingly warm and tender on the ballads. Webster uses the latter voice throughout this two-LP set. On all but four of 20 selections, Ben is backed by a string section arranged by Ralph Burns (except for "Chelsea Bridge" which was arranged by Billy Strayhorn) and, although clarinetists Tony Scott and Jimmy Hamilton and pianists Teddy Wilson and Hank Jones are heard from, the focus is otherwise entirely on the great tenor. The final four numbers, which matches Webster with Wilson in a stringless quartet, also stick to ballads. Music that is both beautiful and creative.
This aptly named set was recorded on November 28, 1972, in Barcelona, Spain. Although many of Ben Webster's European sessions suffered when compared to his American ones, this outing is one of the exceptions, due in no small part to the fluid piano work of Tete Montoliu. Supported by a rhythm section of Eric Peter on bass and Peer Wyboris on drums, both Webster and Montoliu have plenty of room to breathe, and the result is a wonderful and pleasant set highlighted by the opening track, "Ben's Blues," and an easy, elegant version of "Sweet Georgia Brown." Webster's trademark breathy tenor sax tone is in full supply here, but the real revelation is Montoliu, who proves to be a marvelous jazz pianist, making Gentle Ben somewhat of an overlooked gem.
The complete memorable recordings made by Billie Holiday in 1956-57 backed by a small group including Ben Webster, Harry Edison, Jimmy Rowles and Barney Kessel. A complete Holiday set recorded at Newport during the same period has been added as a bonus. Includes 16-page booklet.