Benny Carter was beloved by his fellow jazz musicians for a number of reasons. He was a top-notch composer and arranger, one of the top alto saxophonists (and an accomplished trumpeter when he chose to play the horn), while fellow players also just enjoyed being around him. To celebrate the centennial of Carter's birth, a number of musicians (many of whom had worked with him) were invited to participate in recording his compositions and pieces that he had performed, though there is no effort to re-create any of Carter's recordings. Phil Woods, one of Carter's dearest friends who co-led several dates with him and also played as a sideman for him, plays two intimate duets with the brilliant pianist John Coates, including the melancholy ballad "Johnny" and the bittersweet "Other Times." Pianist Chris Neville, who anchored Carter's rhythm section for the last decade of his performing career, offers a jaunty solo interpretation of "Fable of a Fool," while he also leads several trio tracks with bassist Steve LaSpina and drummer Steve Johns, including the breezy "South Side Samba," while the trio also backs most of the soloists and larger ensembles on the remainder of the CD. Trumpeter Joe Wilder, the senior player on these sessions, plays a heartfelt rendition of "The Blessing," a piece that opened Carter's final extended work, "Peaceful Warrior" (honoring Dr. Martin Luther King). Trumpeter Warren Vaché offers a sultry muted solo in the lush "Key Largo," with another top trumpeter, Randy Sandke, plays a spacious, lyrical interpretation of "Again and Again." Larger ensembles swing through Carter's arrangements of two vintage standards, "I'm Coming, Virginia" and "All of Me." Carter ceased performing in public in 1998, though he continued to compose for several years afterward. One of his last compositions was the tender ballad "All About You," which he gave to guitarist Russell Malone during a visit. Malone's touching solo interpretation segues into Carter's home recording of the piece on his own Bösendorfer grand piano in 2001, which turned out to be his final recording prior to his death just shy of his 98th birthday in 2003. Ed Berger, who co-founded the Evening Star label with Carter and was a longtime friend, wrote the warm liner notes for the booklet, which includes a number of photographs from throughout Carter's career. All proceeds from the sale of this valuable CD benefit the Monroe Berger-Benny Carter Jazz Research Fund at the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies. This valuable tribute to Benny Carter is available on line at http://cdbaby.com/group/eveningstar.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden