Benny Waters, a saxophonist, clarinetist and singer who spent 70 years touring the world, died Aug. 11 of natural causes in Columbia, Md. He was 96.
Waters toured clubs and festivals around the world and performed as recently as June. He was known as a spirited performer, cracking jokes in different languages and scatting through vocal breaks.
Born in Brighton, Md., near Baltimore, Waters played in Charlie Miller’s band as a high school student. At the Boston Conservatory of Music, he studied theory and arranging, and gave private clarinet lessons. Among his pupils was Harry Carney, who went on to play baritone saxophone with Duke Ellington.
In 1926, Waters joined Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Band as a soloist and arranger. The band, counting among its membership the likes of Jabbo Smith, Benny Carter and Sidney De Paris, performed regularly at Small’s Paradise in Harlem and recorded until the late 1920s.
In 1952, a tour with a Dixieland band led by trombonist Jimmie Archey took Waters to Europe, and he stayed, living and working primarily in Paris until 1991.
Despite an unsuccessful cataract operation, he averaged 100 dates a year. He was awarded the Legion of Honor by the French Ministry of Culture in 1996.
His most recent recording was “Birdland Birthday — Live at 95,” recorded on his 95th birthday at Birdland in Manhattan.