Saxophonist, clarinettist, singer and arranger, Benny Waters was known as a fiery soloist with dazzling technique. His career spanned almost the entire 20th century.
Born in Brighton, Maryland, in 1902, Benjamin Waters began playing music at an early age. He first studied the organ and piano before moving on to the clarinet and then the saxophone. He played occasionally in the shows of his town where he was considered a child prodigy.
As a teenager, he performed regularly with his brother, a trumpet player. Waters mastered the alto saxophone, soprano, baritone and tenor, but it was the latter that he favoured. He was a member of Charlie Miller's orchestra from 1918 to 1921. He then entered the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.
In the 1920s, Benny Waters embarked on a career as a sideman, playing alongside Charlie Johnson, King Oliver, Fletcher Henderson, Claude Hopkins, and then with Jimmie Lunceford's orchestra. He founded his own group in the 1940s, in New York and then in California. He then joined the group of trombonist Jimmy Archey (Dixieland) before moving to Europe in 1952. He stayed there for 40 years, mainly in Paris. He played a lot at La Cigale, in the Moulin Rouge district, notably alongside Dexter Gordon, Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell. He then plays as a solo musician in festivals all over the world.
He returned to the United States in 1992 to undergo surgery, an operation that left him blind. Nevertheless, he continues to play a string of concerts throughout the world, performing an average of 100 dates a year. In 1995 he founded the group Statesmen of Jazz, composed exclusively of musicians over 65 years old, with whom he toured Europe, Japan and the United States. In 1996, he received the Legion of Honour from the French Ministry of Culture.
He gave his last performance in June 1998 in Manhattan, two months before his death. He was one of the last living legends of jazz whose career dates back to the early 1920s.
You're never too old to learn.