Interview with Benny Rubin Jr.: The spirit is much older than the brain: Video, New CD cover

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Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Benny Rubin Jr. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Benny Rubin Jr.: – I grew up in Flint, Michigan. I didn’t start learning Jazz until I moved to Detroit in 2013 where I went to the Detroit School of Arts. I started playing saxophone at the age of 11 at Carpenter Road Elementary. At that time, there weren’t many music students. I’m the only musician in my family. What kept me interested in music was playing in church at Harris Memorial. I always loved the idea of improvisation and being in the moment.

JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

BRJr.: – I took lessons on and off when my Mom could afford them.  But overall, I learned from trial and error. We didn’t have cable, so I entertained myself by playing.  It wasn’t until high school that I started to learn saxophone technique from Russ Miller who was a professor of music at MI State.  Afterwards, I met Jazz Master Wendell Harrison who introduced me to Bebop. This is when I really started to develop my own voice around the age of 16. I developed my voice from studying the masters of the saxophone.

JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

BRJr.: – The most important part of my practice is working on sound. Everyday I do long tones. I also practice taking songs from the American Song in all 12 keys.

JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

BRJr.: – Every great artist has their influences. It’s okay for people to hear your influence because it shows the artist come from a lineage. One thing I try to do is see what characteristics all the great saxophonists have and make sure I have them.  I really just try to focus on telling my story.

JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

BRJr.: – The way I prepare for a performance starts in my daily practice. I practice so much so I won’t have to think about it during the gig. I like to be in the moment. Spiritually, I pray before gigs that I’m able to touch somebody in the audience. I believe the music comes from the creator and musicians are His messengers.

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2020: Benny Rubin Jr. Quartet – Know Say Or See, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

BRJr.: – My new release, “Know Say Or See” means the things people don’t want you to Know, Say, Or See.  One of the things I love about the album was the communication between the members in my quartet.  We completed the album in one take with no edits.  I also love the fact that I finally wrote a song for the city of Flint.

JBN: – Ism is culled from a variety of lives dates with various performers over the course of a few years. Did your sound evolve during that time? And how did you select the musicians who play on the album?

BRJr.: – As I learned more history, my playing became more powerful. I had more options to pull from. For example, as I listen to Charlie Parker I notice how melodic he is.  I love how Ben Webster plays ballads. John Coltrane’s spirit is larger than life.  These are just a few people who have influenced me. As for my band members, the pianist Lex Korten was the first person of my quartet. I heard a voice in my head saying that’s your guy. Adam Olszewski was coming from Michigan at the same time I was but we never got to play much until meeting in New York. I was listening to Jk Kim at Smalls Jazz Club. I never heard anybody approach the drums how he did. I knew these guys could get me were I wanted to be in my development.

JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

BRJr.: – To me, the best musicians are the ones that play from the intellectual side as well as the heart. What I believe is the spirit is much older than the brain so if anything doesn’t make sense from an intellectual point, I trust my spirit.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

BRJr.: – I love the idea of options. I feel that I know how to give the audience what they want, but I’m not afraid of the idea of stretching out. Sometimes the audience can try to keep you in a box and you just have to educate them but also understand the business side of the music.

JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

BRJr.: – Some of my best moments are sitting in with the Roy Hargrove’s Quintet at Blue Note in 2017 when I first moved to New York. Also sitting in with George Coleman’s band at Smoke Jazz Club after I just introduced myself to him and having the opportunity to sit in with Barry Harris one of my idols.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

BRJr.: – What I try to do Is compose songs that reflect the times that I’m in. I think by doing this it will attract young people into the music.  However, I still like to play standards because of their melodies.

JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

BRJr.: – When you’re playing this music and you mean what you say, your spirit gets into the music and it can live in the music forever.

JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

BRJr.: – One of the things I want to change in the musical world is how people view this artform. Many people believe that Jazz has already been at its best. What I want to show people is that great things can happen in today’s time. That this artform is still developing. I want to inspire people. I want people to feel like “If he can do it coming from Flint, Michigan than so can I.” I also want to find a way to fix the high cost of tuition for Jazz Schools in America and make sure there’s scholarship for marginalized African-Americans.

JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

BRJr.: – I find myself listening to Lee Morgan, Miles Davis’s second quintet also people in my generation like Giveton Gelin, Immanuel Wilkins are just a few…

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

BRJr.: – My message is to beat all odds against you. To never give up and show people anything is possible.

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

BRJr.: – I would take a trip to hear Ben Webster, Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane Quartet and Lee Morgan because they all have great stories.

JBN: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?

BRJr.: – During this Covid-19 Era ,I have been composing new songs and working on my saxophone technique. I have also been playing solo saxophone at Short Stories Bar in New York every Sunday from 7-10 pm. Everyday I wait for the day I’m able to get back to performing with my quartet.  I plan to provide private lessons starting the month of September.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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