Ben Webster is one of the three most important tenor players of the pre-war era alongside Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young.
Webster started on violin as a child, moving to the piano where he later played in a number of bands before finding himself playing for silent movies in Amarillo, Texas. Whilst in Texas the sax player Budd Johnson introduced him to the saxophone and gave ‘Bean’ his first lesson. Shortly afterwards Ben Webster was invited to join the ‘Young Family Band’ by Lester’s father Willis. After this he toured with some of the best swing orchestras of the time including Cab Calloway, Fletcher Henderson, Andy Kirk and others. In 1940 he joined Duke Ellington’s Orchestra becoming a permanent fixture and the featured tenor soloist.
In the late 1940s he went out on his own and could be found playing in many of the legendary 52nd St Clubs in New York City. In the early 1950s he returned to Kansas and recorded with Art Tatum, Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holliday and Oscar Peterson.
By the 1960s Ben Webster’s sound and style had fallen out of fashion and he moved to Europe. He died in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1973.