Ben Webster Day

March 27, 1909 – September 20, 1973

A tribute to one of the great swing tenors

Tenor-saxophonist Ben Webster was born on March 27, 1909 in Kansas City, Missouri.

Webster played violin briefly and then took up the piano which he enjoyed playing for the fun of it throughout his life.

Soon he switched permanently to tenor, taking lessons from Budd Johnson and touring for a few months with the Young Family Band, a group headed by Lester Young’s father.

Webster played with many groups in the 1930s including Blanche Calloway (with whom he made his recording debut), the Bennie Moten Orchestra (1931-33) which included Count Basie, Andy Kirk, Fletcher Henderson (1934), Benny Carter, Willie Bryant, Cab Calloway, Stuff Smith, Roy Eldridge and the Teddy Wilson Big Band (1939-40).

Influenced by Coleman Hawkins but with a sound that became increasingly personal through the years (sometimes brutish and raspy yet on ballads it purred and caressed notes), Webster became a star during his period with Duke Ellington (1940-43), particularly for his playing on “Cotton Tail” and “All Too Soon.”

After leaving Duke, Webster worked with Raymond Scott’s radio orchestra, the John Kirby Sextet, led bands on 52nd Street, was back with Ellington during 1948-49, performed with Jay McShann and toured with Jazz At The Philharmonic.

Webster made some of his finest recordings in the 1950s for Norman Granz’s label, and in his solos it was almost more about his sound and the feelings that he expressed than the notes he played.

In December 1964, Ben Webster moved to Europe, eventually settling in Copenhagen and became a constant at European jazz clubs during his final nine years.

Here is Ben Webster in England in late-1964 playing “Perdido.”


Ben Webster, tenor sax
Stan Tracey, piano
Rick Laird, bass
Jackie Doogan, drums

-Scott Yanow