Ben Webster: Ballads

First noted for his bustling solos on uptempo numbers such as Cotton Tail, in mid-career the tenor man became a widely admired ballad player

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Ben soon became noted in the early stages of his career for his inventively bustling, hard-blowing tenor in numbers such as Cotton Tail with Ellington in 1940. In mid-career, on albums such as this, he developed a contrasting expansion to his style by interpreting ballads with an exceptional expressive depth of feeling, conveyed with inspired lyrical invention. Deploying a huge, warm breathy tone, he achieved a mood of romantic intimacy, and came to be regarded as one of the greatest ballad stylists in jazz.

This CD reissue features him in three sessions from 1954-5 with strings, plus one quartet track not included on earlier LPs and CD (Almost Like Being In Love). However, two tracks  from the  four 1954 quartets with Wilson, which were on earlier issues, have been omitted because of time limitations.

Strings may not be to every jazz lover’s taste, but Ben declared that he enjoyed working with them. In fact, the string section backing throughout is tasteful and unobtrusive. In We’ll Be Together Again and Early Autumn, particularly, Ralph Burns’ interesting scoring counterposes strings and woodwind effectively against the tenor’s lead.

Billy Strayhorn arranged the first set, with two Ellington numbers, and contributed a half-chorus solo in Chelsea Bridge. Tony Scott is only heard solo once, briefly, in an intro. In the next set, two  more Ellington songs are included, and Duke’s clarinet star Jimmy Hamilton contributes a serene half-chorus in Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me.

The session is enhanced by the elegant keyboard artistry of Teddy Wilson, outstanding in a fine version of Come Rain Or Come Shine. In 1955 the undervalued pianist Hank Jones matched Wilson for poised control and creative lyrical fluency, e.g., in Teach Me Tonight. On the final Wilson quartet tracks, minus strings, Ben’s almost casual reshaping of the difficult bridge in Sophisticated Lady (sixth Ellington tune on the album) is a typical example of his outstanding artistry. Never bland, this is wonderful jazz from the great tenor maestro.

Discography
(1) Chelsea Bridge; Love Is Here To Stay; It Happens To Be Me; All Too Soon; (2) Willow Weep For Me; Come Rain Or Come Shine; Prelude To A Kiss; Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me; (3) My Greatest Mistake; There Is No Greater Love; Blue Moon; What Am I Here For; We’ll Be Together Again; Early Autumn; Until Tonight; Teach Me Tonight; (4) My Funny Valentine; Sophisticated Lady; (5) Almost Like Being In Love (78.47)
Webster (ts) on all tracks with:
(1) Tony Scott (cl); Billy Strayhorn (p, arr); George Duvivier (b); Louie Bellson (d); strings section. NY, 28 May 1954.
(2) Jimmy Hamilton (cl); Danny Bank (cl, f, bcl); Teddy Wilson (p); Wendell Marshall (b); Louie Bellson (d); strings section (arr. Ralph Burns). NY, 15 December 1954.
(3) Danny Bank (f, cl); Hank Jones (p); Chet Amsterdam, Wendell Marshall (b); Osie Johnson (d); string and wind orchestra (arr. Ralph Burns). NY, 9 September 1955.
(4) Teddy Wilson (p); Ray Brown (b); Jo Jones (d). NY, 30 March 1954.
(5) Billy Strayhorn (p); George Duvivier (b); Louie Bellson (d). NY, 28 May 1954.
Essential Jazz Classics 2600