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Benny Waters: Birdland Birthday/Live at 95

Born in Brighton, Maryland, on January 23, 1902, the 96-year-old Benny Waters is a wonder. Indeed, “the oldest active jazz player” makes his mark with a joie de vivre that communicates to all. Although establishing his reputation on tenor sax with Fletcher Henderson, Claude Hopkins and Jimmie Lunceford, the venerable swingster now makes waves on alto. Still, the influence of the tenor remains strong. With a huge tone, an often mile-wide vibrato and a penchant for playing on top of the beat, Waters suggests a prime-time Coleman Hawkins wading in on alto.

Recorded on January 23, 1997, Benny’s Big Apple birthday bash is a triumph. Repertoire ranges from Waters’ barn-burner, “Exactly Like Me,” to an exotic “Besame Mucho” and heart-on-sleeve “Misty.” For contrast, there’s an appealing Waters vocal on Spencer Williams’ “Everybody Loves My Baby.” Along with standards, there are romping originals like “Blues Amore” and “Jungle Blues.” The classy band, keysman Mike LeDonne, guitarists Howard Alden and Steve Blailock, bassist Earl May and drummer Ed Locke is another plus. Still, the straw stirring the drink is the jubilant Benny Waters, an American original!

Originally Published