Benjamin Francis Webster (March 27, 1909 – September 20, 1973) was an American jazz tenor saxophonist. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, he is considered one of the three most important “swing tenors” along with Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. Known affectionately as “The Brute” or “Frog”, he had a tough, raspy, and brutal tone on stomps (with growls), yet on ballads he played with warmth and sentiment. He was indebted to alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, who, he said, taught him to play his instrument.
Webster learned to play piano and violin at an early age before taking up the saxophone, although he did return to the piano from time to time, even recording on the instrument occasionally. Once Budd Johnson showed him some basics on the saxophone, Webster began to play that instrument in the Young Family Band (which at the time included Lester Young). Kansas City at this point was a melting pot from which emerged some of the biggest names in 1930s jazz. Webster joined Bennie Moten‘s band in 1932, a grouping which also included Count Basie, Oran “Hot Lips” Page and Walter Page. This era was recreated in Robert Altman‘s film Kansas City.
Webster spent time with quite a few orchestras in the 1930s, including Andy Kirk, the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra in 1934, then Benny Carter, Willie Bryant, Cab Calloway, and the short-lived Teddy Wilson big band.