JAZZ LIVES

HUMPH book

From Humphrey Lyttelton’s posthumous “Autobiographical Medley,” LAST CHORUS:

Ben Webster was ejected by the police from the Nottingham club where he was appearing as star soloist, and asked the young policeman who had him in an armlock, “Did you ever know Art Tatum?”  Ben Webster was part-Red Indian and, below a certain specific gravity, the sweetest man who ever walked.  When flash level was reached, he developed a suicidal tendency to attack anyone in official uniform.  Stories of Ben ending a foray with a squad of policemen or hotel night staff sitting on his protesting head would always get the same affectionate but gleeful response from Buck [Clayton], “Yeah, that’s Ben” (197).

That’s one man — indiscriminately dangerous when intoxicated.

Here’s the other side of the human coin:

We are mysterious to each other and, if we can admit it, mysterious to ourselves. Tales of Ben’s murderous drunken behavior…

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