Benny Waters (born Benjamin Waters; January 23, 1902, Brighton, Baltimore, Maryland – August 11, 1998, Columbia, Maryland) was a jazz saxophonist and clarinettist.
Longevity, versatility and virtuosity are words that inevitably come to mind when describing Benny Waters. His career as a clarinetist, saxophonist, vocalist, composer and arranger encompassed eight decades, and his playing reflected elements from the entire history of jazz.
Benny Waters grew up in Brighton, Maryland, the youngest of seven children. After discovering his brothers organ and learning how to play, Benny's mother, who was terminally ill, was so moved by his natural ability that she devoted her remaining energy to getting him a formal education in music.
He worked with Charlie Miller from 1918-1921. Benny then attended the New England Conservatory of Music, where he gained invaluable training in harmony and composition and became a teacher; one of his students was Harry Carney. Waters played, arranged for, and recorded with Charlie Johnson's Paradise Ten (1925-1932), an underrated group that also for a time included Benny Carter and Jabbo Smith.
Waters, who was primarily a tenor saxophonist and an occasional clarinetist during this period, was influenced to an extent by Coleman Hawkins, and he recorded with both Clarence Williams and King Oliver in the 1920s. During the next two decades, Waters played in many groups including those led by Fletcher Henderson (for a few months), Hot Lips Page and Claude Hopkins.
Over the next 25 years, Waters played with a number of top big bands, including those of Fletcher Henderson, Hot Lips Page, Claude Hopkins and Jimmie Lunceford. After that he started his own band and played at the "Red Mill" in New York. After NY he stayed for four years in California. He later played with Roy Milton's R&B band, and in 1949 went to France with the Jimmy Archey Dixieland group.
Waters had long been fascinated with the idea of playing in Paris, and left Archey's band after a tour of Europe to immerse himself in the thriving post-war jazz scene in the City of Lights. From 1952 to 1992 he lived in Paris and in 1996 received the Legion of Honour by the French Ministry of Culture.
Though his playing remained prolific, Waters' career had become so geographically spread out that the media essentially lost track of him, but by the 1980s, he was visiting the U.S. more frequently, and Waters is heard in brilliant form on a 1987 quartet set for Muse on which he plays tenor, alto, and clarinet, in addition to taking some effective vocals.
Here's "Always" from above album.
Still going strong at 90, Waters returned to the US, moving to New York in 1992. A car accident and a blinding bout with cataracts were not enough to deter him from once again making his mark stateside. Jazz historian Phil Schapp recalls Benny’s ingenuity in adjusting his playing style to new concepts well into his 90s.
Though Waters never received the recognition he deserved in the United States, his outstanding performances in New York did awaken many more musicians and jazz listeners to his truly legendary credentials.
The seemingly ageless Benny Waters continued recording and performing with a remarkable amount of energy, touring with the Statesmen of Jazz in 1995 and creating some miraculous music prior to his death on August 11, 1998 in Columbia, Maryland.
(Info edited from All Music, NPR.org & Wikipedia)