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Webster, Ben(jamin Francis)

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Webster, Ben(jamin Francis)

(b Kansas City, MO, 27 March 1909; d Amsterdam, 20 Sept 1973). American jazz tenor saxophonist. He studied at Wilberforce University and worked as a professional jazz pianist before turning to the saxophone around 1930. Despite this relatively late start he was a leading figure on the instrument, playing in such important Southwestern bands as those of Bennie Moten (1931–3) and Andy Kirk (intermittently during the early 1930s). In 1934 he moved to New York, where he was retained for Fletcher Henderson’s band. After playing in many swing groups, including Duke Ellington’s orchestra (for two brief periods in 1935–6), Webster was offered a permanent engagement in 1940 with Ellington’s band, which until that time had lacked an important soloist on the tenor saxophone. Under Ellington’s influence Webster’s style matured remarkably: his striking, slightly unfocussed tone, great rhythmic momentum and distinctive rasping timbre at moments of tension played a key role in many of Ellington’s masterpieces of the period (among them Cotton Tail, 1940, Vic., and Main Stem, 1942, Vic.), and he soon became established, with Chu Berry and Herschel Evans, as a leading exponent of the style fashioned by Coleman Hawkins.

After leaving Ellington in 1943 Webster worked mainly freelance and with his own groups, excelling in warm renditions of popular ballads, a notable example being his recording with Sid Catlett of Memories of You (1944, Com.). He worked with Ellington again in 1948–9, toured with Jazz at the Philharmonic in the 1950s, and made numerous recordings as a studio musician, particularly as an accompanist to such singers as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Carmen McRae. In 1964 he went to the Netherlands and from 1967 was based in Copenhagen; he played frequently on the Continent in clubs and at festivals with local and expatriate American musicians.


‘Ben Webster Plays that Big Tenor’, Down Beat, xxii/20 (1955), 12–13

D. Cerulli: ‘Ben Webster’, Down Beat, xxv/13 (1958), 16

B. Houghton: ‘Ben Webster: a Biography and Appreciation’, JJ, xv/12 (1962), 10–11, 40

L. Tomkins: ‘Ben Webster Speaking’, Crescendo, iii/7 (1964–5), 22–4

V. Wilmer: ‘Warm and Websterish’, Jazz Beat, ii/2 (1965), 19 only

S. Dance: ‘Ben Webster’, The World of Duke Ellington (London, 1970/R), 121–7

R. Stewart: ‘The Frog and Me (Ren Webster)’, Jazz Masters of the Thirties (New York, 1972/R), 120–29

J. Evensmo: The Tenor Saxophone of Ben Webster, 1931–1943 ([Oslo], c1978) [discography]

Y. Delmarche and I. Fresart: A Discography of Ben Webster, 1931–1973 ([Surhout], c1983)

G. Schuller: The Swing Era: the Development of Jazz, 1930–1945 (New York, 1989)

J. de Valk: In a Mellow Tone: het levenverhal van Ben Webster (Amsterdam, 1992)

M. Tucker, ed.: The Duke Ellington Reader (New York, 1993)


Webster, James

(b Evanston, IL, 13 Sept 1942). American musicologist. He studied at Harvard (BA 1963), Vienna and Princeton, and took the MFA (1965) and PhD (1974) at Princeton having studied with Strunk, Mendel, Sessions, Cone and Lockwood. After working as assistant (from 1971) and associate professor (from 1977) at Cornell, he was appointed department chair (1980), professor (1982) and Goldwin Smith Professor of Music (1996); he has also been associate visiting professor at Columbia, Brandeis and Freiburg. He has been board member of the Joseph Haydn-Institut, Cologne (from 1979), co-editor (1992–5) and editorial board member (from 1996) of the journal Beethoven Forum, and president of the AMS (1997–8).

Webster is a specialist on the music of the Classical era and has written on many aspects of Haydn’s works. He uses detailed and searching methods of formal analysis to offer fresh insights into the background and structure of the music he investigates (notably Haydn's ‘Farewell’ Symphony and Mozart’s arias). He has also published writings on Beethoven’s chamber music, Schubert, opera buffa and Brahms. In addition to formal analysis, Webster’s studies include discussions on the theory of tonal music, editorial practices and musical aesthetics.


‘Towards a History of Viennese Chamber Music in the Early Classical Period’, JAMS, xxvii (1974), 212–47

‘The Chronology of Joseph Haydn’s String Quartets’, MQ, lxi (1975), 17–46

ed., with J.P. Larsen and H. Serwer: Haydn Studies: Detroit 1977, Washington DC, 1975

‘Violoncello and Double Bass in the Chamber Music of Haydn and his Viennese Contemporaries, 1750–1780’, JAMS, xxix (1976), 413–38

‘The Bass Part in Haydn’s Early String Quartets’, MQ, lxiii (1977), 390–424

‘Traditional Elements in Beethoven’s Middle-Period String Quartets’, Beethoven, Performers, and Critics: Detroit 1977, 94–133

‘Schubert’s Sonata Form and Brahms’s First Maturity’, 19CM, ii (1978–9), 18–35; iii (1979–80), 52–71

‘Prospects for Haydn Biography after Landon’, MQ, lxviii (1982), 476–95

‘Brahms’s Tragic Overture: the Form of the Tragedy’, Brahms: Biographical, Documentary, and Analytical Studies, ed. R. Pascall (Cambridge, 1983), 99–124

‘The General and the Particular in Brahms’s Later Sonata Forms’, Brahms Studies: Washington DC 1983, 49–78

‘The Falling-Out between Haydn and Beethoven: the Evidence of the Sources’, Beethoven Essays: Studies in Honor of Elliot Forbes, ed. L. Lockwood and P. Benjamin (Cambridge, MA, 1984), 3–45

‘The Scoring of Mozart’s Chamber Music for Strings’, Music in the Classic Period: Essays in Honor of Barry S. Brook, ed. A.W. Atlas (Stuyvesant, NY, 1985), 259–96

‘To Understand Verdi and Wagner we must Understand Mozart’, 19CM, xi (1987), 175–93

‘Haydns frühe Ensemble-Divertimenti: geschlossene Gattung, meisterhafter Satz’, Gesellschafts gebundene instrumentale Unterhaltungsmusik des 18. Jahrhunderts: Eichstätt 1988, 87–103

‘Cone’s Personae and the Analysis of Opera’, College Music Symposium, xxix (1989), 44–65

‘The D-Major Interlude in the First Movement of Haydn’s Farewell Symphony’, Studies in Musical Sources and Styles: Essays in Honor of Jan LaRue, ed. E.K. Wolf and E.H. Roesner (Madison, WI, 1990), 339–80

‘Mozart’s Operas and the Myth of Musical Unity’, COJ, ed. C. Eisen, ii (1990), 197–218

‘The Analysis of Mozart’s Arias’, Mozart Studies (Oxford, 1991), 101–99

Haydn’s ‘Farewell’ Symphony and the Idea of Classical Style (Cambridge, 1991)

‘The Form of the Finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony’, Beethoven Forum, i (1992), 25–62

‘The Concept of Beethoven’s “Early” Period in the Context of Periodizations in General’, Beethoven Forum, iii (1994), 1–27

‘Haydns Salve Regina in G-Moll (1771) und die Entwicklung zum durchkomponierten Zyklus’, Haydn-Studien, vi (1994), 245–60

ed., with M. Hunter: Opera Buffa in Mozart’s Vienna (Cambridge, 1997)


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