Blues in Benny Carter’s Heart

benny-carter-1938Benny Carter blessed us with an amazing solo on the 1938 recording of his composition “Blues in My Heart.”   The entire performance is miraculous, but one four-bar passage in particular knocked me out, prompting me to shed that phrase in all 12 keys.  Here’s the lick:

Benny’s rhythmic vitality propels the piece, his melodic contour is unique in all of jazz literature, his harmonic inventiveness is preposterously original, and his crystal clear tone is infectious.    Here is my transcription of those amazing four bars.


Here is a slowed down recording of that phrase in all 12 keys: 

If you want to play it yourself, click the “continue reading” button to see a complete chart.


Click below to hear the entire 1938 Benny Carter Orchestra recording.  The arrangement is wonderful, and all of the players are top notch.    Notice in particular how Benny quotes W. C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” at the beginning.    I want to especially thank Dr. Gordon Vernick for his exceptional program “Jazz Insights” where I first discovered Benny Carter’s “Blues in My Heart.”    You’re show is somethin’ else, Dr. Vernick! 


4 thoughts on “Blues in Benny Carter’s Heart

  1. Hi, Craig–

    Thanks for another very interesting lesson! I too am a huge Carter fan. I’m proud that I even got to play with him ‘way back when, at a concert in Denver. CO. He was very kind and encouraging to me.

    I’ll enjoy looking over the lick you transcribed. I think it’s great you’re doing this, and sharing your considerable knowledge and ability with others. Thanks for that!

    Take care, and stay safe,


    1. Hi Dan-
      Man, i sure would have loved being a “fly on the wall” to witness your performance with Benny Carter. Sounds like a perfect “front line” for any band.
      Want me to send that chart in bass clef? It’s easy to change the clef in Finale.


  2. Benny Carter is the kind of musician we would all like to be. Benny Carter once rented a room from my aunt, whose brother was the great Joe Steele. Joe was my uncle, a concert pianist and Jazz pianist for Chick Webb. Benny was constantly arranging. My cousin and I probably drove Benny crazy! We both lived in the same apartment. Benny had a great tone on the alto sax. His signature piece was “Poinciana.” He was taught by his mother. His sister was a great singer. Benny was maybe the first Afro American to be hired as an arranger. His writing for saxophones was outstanding. As a young kid at the time, I did not know much about him. He could play any instrument. As a young music student, I was studying “twelve tone” composition. I would sing a twelve tone phrase to him. He grabbed his alto sax and played it right back to me! Amazing! He was such a wonderful human being. The top be bop musicians like Max Roach were always getting music from Benny. He was such a genius. His career ended up as professor of music at an ivy league college. Talking about young and foolish…that was me!


    1. Wow, Alexander, those are some very special memories! Thank you so much for sharing them with the rest of us. Alto geniuses like Benny, Bird, Stitt, and Cannonball inspire us to continue practicing and reach our full potential as musicians and as human beings.


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