In June of 1996, the Library of Congress presented a “Big Band Bash” at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington DC. Over the course of a weekend, it offered a rare opportunity to present concerts by three important L.A.-based jazz composers and their orchestras: Buddy Collette, Gerald Wilson and Benny Carter. Each composer was offered a commission to write a new work for each evening. Collette debuted his Friendship Suite: Sixty Years of Musical Togetherness, with nods to his associates and collaborators Chico Hamilton, Charles Mingus, Fred Katz and Eric Dolphy. Wilson wrote a new arrangement on Gershwin’s “Summertime” with 8-part harmony and solos from his son, guitarist Anthony Wilson, trumpeter Snooky Young and Jack Nimitz. Benny Carter’s commissioned work Peaceful Warrior: The Martin Luther King Jr. Suite was an inspiring piece for big band and string ensemble with key roles played by trumpeter Joe Wilder, violinist Joe Kennedy Jr., drummer Kenny Washington and vocalists Marlena Shaw and Joe Williams.
For years we searched for the original manuscript of Peaceful Warrior but it eventually became clear that we never received it. In April of 2017 I ran into Archivist Elizabeth Surles at the Institute for Jazz Studies (IJS) and asked her if she had any ideas about the missing score. It became our mission to track it down and retrieve it. To make a long story short, the score was found in Ed Berger’s apartment. Ed and his father Morroe Berger had written the definitive biography Benny Carter: A Life in American Music (Scarecrow Press) and he remained close to Carter for the rest of his life. Ed was also the Associate Director of the Institute of Jazz Studies (IJS) at Rutgers. He was Carter’s long-time road manager and produced many of Carter’s later recordings. Berger passed on January 22, 2017 and it’s no surprise that his collection ended up at IJS. It took approximately two years for this detective story to play out so we wish to thank Elizabeth and her IJS colleagues for their dogged determination. It’s a great piece that is now finally here in the Music Division. It’s been cataloged and can be accessed in the Performing Arts Reading Room.
Saxophonist, composer and arranger Benny Carter would have turned 112 today.
A note on commissions:
I went to dinner with Benny Carter in the mid ’80s when he was in Chicago for the Chicago Jazz Fest. While crossing Michigan Ave. we ran into James Moody. They greeted each other warmly, and James asked BC what he’d be doing. Benny said he was working on a commission, but hadn’t actually started it yet.
“When do you play,” he asked.
“In two nights,” Benny said.
“Oh…” Moody said with a wink, “…a lot of whole notes.”