June 24, 1996 12:00 PM

>Benny Carter


The duke and the count are departed, but jazz still has its king. Benny Goodman was the King of Swing, but Benny “King” Carter (so crowned, he says, by tenor-sax titan Ben Webster in the ’30s) continues to produce some of the sweetest sounds ever to spring from an alto saxophone. After premiering his orchestral tribute to Martin Luther King in Washington this month, Carter will tour Europe. The second volume of his swinging Song-book sessions with jazz vocalists (the first earned critical praise this spring) is set for an October release. And, oh, yes, come August, wife Hilma will set a birthday cake before him at his Los Angeles home, though probably not with all the 90 candles that he’ll be entitled to.

How does it feel to be almost 90?

I don’t act and feel differently than I did 50 years ago, but I had moments then that weren’t too comfortable. I’m getting lazier, but I’m still running and making dates.

Whom do you listen to these days?

Anybody but me. A lot of classical. I find some country music very interesting—it has an honesty. I love Itzhak Perlman doing klezmer. It has vitality.

What is your typical day?

I get up around 8, fool around at the piano, have a dash of cognac before or after breakfast. My doctor prescribed it about 50 years ago.

Ever dream of the greats you knew?

No. I don’t dream much, but when I do, I usually wake up laughing—some crazy, unimaginable something. Years ago in New York, I threw chili parties. Ben Webster was my roommate. I still make chili now and then, but it always comes out differently. I don’t measure. I cook by ear.

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