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. Johnson.
"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 band."
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 sound."
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 excursions.
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 track.
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 whole album.
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 melody.
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)