Jean-François Bonnel And His Swinging Jazz Cats With Thanks To Benny Carter – Arbors Records ARCD 19452 51:25****

Thoughtful and creative interpreters of Benny Carter’s music

( Jean-François Bonnel – alto sax, clarinet #3,10; Chris Dawson – piano; Charmin Michelle – vocals #1,3,4,5,7,10; François Laudet – drums)

Benny Carter was a true jazz original. A top of the line trumpeter as well as  a pure alto saxophonist, he made a unique contribution to the jazz world.  Therefore it may seem passing strange that it would be a couple of French jazz musicians to delve into Carter’s world and come up with a dandy release entitled With Thanks To Benny Carter.

In this ten track session, the band delves into compositions either written by Carter or those connected to him via his recordings. For those who may be unfamiliar with Jean-François Bonnel, he is a highly regarded French musician, who doubles on alto and clarinet. He took a serious interest in Carter’s saxophone style by transcribing his solos and also studying his compositions. While not playing entirely in Carter’s manner he is certainly informed by his technique.

One of Carter’s best known numbers “When Lights Are Low” leads off the session with Bonnel in an open vibrato mode, followed by Charmin Michelle’s vocal as she runs through the verses. “Mood Indigo” by Duke Ellington and Barney Bigard, features Bonnel on clarinet mostly in a low register, and a delightfully soulful vocal by Michelle. Following along in a similar vein is the infrequently heard ”Lotus Blossom” by Arthur Johnston and Sam Coslow. Bonnel and Michelle give the number a sensual feel punctuated by a syncopated rhythm established by pianist Dawson and drummer Laudet.

In 1948, John Huston directed Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in  the noir thriller Key Largo. In the same year Benny Carter penned a tune with the same name and was first recorded by vocalist Anita O’Day along with The Benny Carter Orchestra. The song was never intended to be used in the movie although with it’s evocative melody could have easily fit into the theme of the picture. Bonnel and Michelle capture the essence of the number perfectly. Pianist Dawson delivers a sparse solo before Michelle takes the tune out.

The final Carter original is “Love, You’re Not The One For Me” and is one of his least known compositions. With Bonnel again on clarinet, Michelle negotiates the lyrics and chord changes with aplomb. Both Bonnel and Dawson have clear and perfectionist styles on their respective instruments allowing them to communicate a story on any song.

Jean-François Bonnel and His Swinging Jazz Cats are thoughtful and creative interpreters of Benny Carter’s music.


When Lights Are Low
Mood Indigo
Lotus Blossom
Blues In My Heart
If Dreams Come True
Key Largo
Cocktails For Two
‘Deed I Do
Love, You’re Not The One For Me

—Pierre Giroux