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.
Sean Webster has been sculpting his career in the blues/rock world for almost 25 years, since picking up the guitar at the age of 14. His debut album, 2004's Long Time Coming, secured him his first recording contract and showcased his fine guitar playing. His influences are wide and varied but include Albert Collins, Gary Moore, Mark Knopfler and especially Eric Clapton. His vocals have been described as amongst the best on the current music scene, drawing comparisons with Joe Cocker and Jonny Lang. Leave Your Heart At The Door is the next step for Sean, a finely tuned piece of work formed straight from the heart that further demonstrates his masterful use of musical phrasing whilst at the same time showing his ability to bare his soul through a gut-wrenching and often tear-jerking vocal delivery.
This 1953 date matched Webster with such peers as alto saxophonist Benny Carter, trumpeter Harry Edison, and pianist Oscar Peterson for a series of elegant yet soulful and exuberant small group dates. With no cut longer than four and a half minutes, the players didn't have time for excess statements or overkill; they had to quickly get to the heart of the matter in their solos, make their points, and return to the head. The original session has been enlarged by the addition of two previously unissued tracks, plus an alternate version of "That's All" that was later issued as a single. Label head Norman Granz excelled in producing swing-oriented, crisply played mainstream dates. Although this date is more than four decades old, Ben Webster's solos have a freshness and vitality that make them quite relevant to contemporary events.