Someone to Watch Over Me

The Life and Music of Ben Webster
Frank Büchmann-Møller

The definitive biography of the great tenor saxophonist Ben Webster


For a half century, Ben Webster, one of the "big three" of swing tenors—along with Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young—was one of the best-known and most popular saxophonists.

Early in his career, Webster worked with many of the greatest orchestras of the time, including those led by Willie Bryant, Cab Calloway, Benny Carter, Fletcher Henderson, Andy Kirk, Bennie Moten, and Teddy Wilson. In 1940 Webster became Duke Ellington's first major tenor soloist, and during the next three years he played on many famous recordings, including "Cotton Tail."

Someone to Watch Over Me tells, for the first time, the complete story of Ben Webster's brilliant and troubled career. For this comprehensive study of Webster, author Frank Büchmann-Møller interviewed more than fifty people in the United States and Europe, and he includes numerous translated excerpts from European periodicals and newspapers, none previously available in English. In addition, the author studies every known Webster recording and film, including many private recordings from Webster's home collection not available to the public.

Exhaustively researched, this is a much needed and long overdue study of the life and music of one of jazz's most important artists.

Cover photo by Jan Persson from a March 9, 1965, television performance

Frank Büchmann-Møller is head of the jazz archive at Carl Nielsen Academy of Music in Odense, Denmark. He is the author of You Just Fight for Your Life: The Story of Lester Young and You Got to Be Original, Man! The Music of Lester Young.

Praise / Awards

  • "The man and the music, both ranging from rough to tender, come fully to life in this warm and definitive work."
    —Dan Morgenstern, Director, Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University; author, Living with Jazz (Pantheon Books)
  • "Frank Büchmann-Møller gives us detailed and sometimes shocking glimpses into the artistic and private world of the volatile and charismatic Ben Webster, a man who loved to laugh and was easily moved to tears. Had he lived to read this, I think Webster would have both roared and wept with approval."
    —Dave Frishberg, jazz musician
  • "Büchmann-Møller admirably captures the fierce and the tender aspects of both Ben Webster's music making and his personal life."
    —John Chilton, musician and author of Let the Good Times Roll: The Story of Louis Jordan and His Music,The Song of the Hawk: The Life and Recordings of Coleman Hawkins, Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz, Roy Eldridge: Little Jazz Giant, and Who's Who of Jazz: Storyville to Swing Street
  • ". . . a compelling read that will likely remain the definitive life of the tenor giant."
    —David French, JazzTimes
  • ". . . thoroughly researched and comprehensively annotated. . . .Buchmann-Moller's comments about the recordings Webster made as he progressed are intelligent and even-handed, without hyberbolic blather, and he does not shy away from his subject's dark side. . . . what does come through is a genuine admiration and affection for his subject, who emerges from these pages as a complete human being. . . ."
    Cadence magazine

  • ". . . contains a wealth of lore and fact. . . . Admirably researched, informative, and lucidly and lovingly written. . . . [T]he type of book the reader is likely to take down from the bookshelf time and time again. . . ."

  • "[a] painstaking reconstruction of Webster's personal life and musical career …. [Büchmann-Møller's] account of Webster's final days in Europe, based largely on newly translated documents and interviews … provides some of the most valuable and poignant material in the book."

  • ". . .an impressively detailed portrait . . ."

  • "[Büchmann-Møller] presents an extremely comprehensive chronicle of Webster's musical life and much of his personal life . . .  [If] you want to find out more about one of jazz's most distinctive voices, Someone to Watch Over Me is a rich resource."
    All About Jazz

  • Winner of the 2007 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Certificate of Merit for Best Research in Recorded Jazz Music

  • Nominated for a 2007 Jazz Journalists Association Jazz Award in the category of: Best Book About Jazz

Supplemental Materials

Appendix: Ben Webster's Musical Activities - web only PDF

*Addition to the Appendix: 1958, July 17, New York, NY, recording session with Mundell Lowe.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 400pp.
  • 31 B&W photograph section.
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Sales Restrictions

Our edition is unavailable in Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden


  • Paper
  • 2008
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03360-7

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  • $27.95 U.S.

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