OK, here's fair warning. Benny Carter is making an extremely rare appearance at Catalina Bar & Grill through Sunday. Miss him, and you'll miss one of the great opportunities to experience the heart and soul of jazz music.
Let's put that in context. At 87, Carter is one of the grand old men of jazz. In the early 1930s--when Charlie Parker was barely a teen-ager--Carter and Johnny Hodges laid down the archetypal definitions of excellence for the jazz alto saxophone. Oh, and he played first-rate trumpet, as well.
None of this would have much more than historical significance if Carter were in his musical dotage. But the performance he delivered in his opening set Thursday night before an enthusiastic, overflow crowd needed no explanations or qualifiers. Very simply, Carter played a deliciously appealing collection of tunes with the elegant style of a musical master.
The material was mostly familiar stuff--"Misty," "Take the 'A' Train"--along with an original, "Another Time, Another Place." With Carter, however, tunes are the starting points for spontaneous composition. Like the mature Picasso, he has a magisterial perspective that allows him to seek out the creative center of his work, while still retaining the skills with which to communicate his vision.