June 22, 2024


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Interview with Daniel Bennett: These competitions are sucking the life out of the music: Video

Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist, clarinetist and fluteist Daniel Bennett. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Daniel Bennett: – I grew up in Rochester, New York. I started playing the saxophone when I was ten years old. My older sister took me to a high school jazz concert.  I heard a saxophonist named Chris Oldfield and was absolutely blown away by his sound.  I later had the privilege of working with Mark Borden at the Honeoye Falls-Lima High School for four years.  I joined the jazz band, wind ensemble, marching band, and began playing in music theater pit orchestras. We were fortunate enough to have some great clinicians visit the school. I remember some very rewarding coaching sessions with John Faddis, Justin Dicioccio, Wynton Marsalis, and Fred Sturm.

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

DB: – My early recordings have a very strong American folk aesthetic. I first formed the Daniel Bennett Group around the idea that my saxophone could be played much like a folk instrument. I played with banjo virtuoso Chris Hersch for many years. I grew up listening to music by Pete Seeger, the Weavers, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchel, and John Denver. My parents took me to see Peter, Paul, and Mary when I was ten. I still remember it like it was yesterday.

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

DB: – I transcribe solos from various horn players. I love Paul Desmond’s sound. His lines are clear and logical. That makes it easier to transcribe for sure! I also practice long tones, scales, and triad pairs. I produce music videos for Morgan Mouthpieces. It’s a great mouthpiece company in Ohio. I produce the video series in order to give people a look inside my own practice routine and musical journey.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?

DB: – I am a saxophonist, but I actually write all of my songs from the guitar. The process is somewhat simple in many ways. I only writes songs that I can easily sing. I don’t restrict myself to any time signature or key signature. The composition goes wherever the melody is leading it. The melody is king! I have studied the music of Steve Reich and Philip extensively. I am drawn towards repetition of phrases, gradual shifting of melodic shapes, and slightly free-form improvisation.  I am a classically trained, even though I make my living as a jazz player. I have a masters degree in Saxophone Performance from Glass the New England Conservatory in Boston.  While studying at NEC, I performed music by contemporary classical composers like Ingolf Dahl, Paul Creston, Eugene Bozza, Pierre Max Dubois, and Alfred Desenclos (to name a few). I also performed numerous transcriptions of pieces by Rachmaninoff, Bach, and Mozart.  In 2002, I performed the Concertino da Camera by Jacques Ibert as a soloist with the Roberts Wesleyan College Orchestra. All of these experiences have shaped who I am as a composer.  I love any song with a great melody.  I am equally influenced by Steve Reich’s “New York Counterpoint,” Ornette Coleman’s “Skies of America,” and the Smiths “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.” All are masterpieces.  I grew up playing in the church, so I love hymns like “It is Well with My Soul” and “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”  I see no boundary line between any genre of music.  I transcribe Paul Desmond saxophone solos every week.  I just transcribed his solo on “Out of Nowhere.”  Some of his lines could have been pulled from a Bach invention. So beautiful!

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

DB: – That’s a great question! I don’t reject any outside musical influences. We are all products of our environment. So many layers. It’s beautiful!

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

DB: – They are the same in my mind. Our bodies have many elements, but they are all designed by God and they can all be used for good or evil. I hope I can always choose good!

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

DB: – I am really just a servant to my audience. I recently made a decision to stop describing my musical “style.” It’s much more fulfilling when the listener can describe the music on their own terms. Most of the time, the audience is much smarter than the musicians. I often float from the jazz world to the rock world and all points in between. When I perform at the Blue Note, I am perceived as being “jazz” artist. When I am playing at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Club in Los Angeles, people see me in a different light. You may hear us at a rock club in Brooklyn and have a whole different perspective. The audience is in control!

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

DB: – I often bump into Lee Konitz at Tomi Jazz club in Manhattan. It’s a great club that my band plays at every month. We’ve been in residency there for 8 years. I have many stories. I played at the Liberty Hotel in Boston for many years. Larry David, Seinfeld creator, would often stay at the hotel. He was always at the bar checking out the music. Nice guy. Big music fan.

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

DB: – We need to teach young people to love music first. Young people are smart. They will lead and create in their own way. I teach at the New York Jazz Academy and Bloomingdale School of Music in New York City. I encourage young artists to follow their own path. Some kids are drawn to early jazz and some are more interested in modern music. It’s a very exciting time for musicians. So much great music being made and produced all over the world. I’m very excited!

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

DB: – A wise man once told me, “worship God and serve the people.” That is my guiding light. That is the meaning of my life. I think Coltrane understood that, especially towards the end of his life.

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

DB: – I would abolish these ridiculous “jazz competitions.” There is nothing more nauseating than a panel of judges critiquing a 19-year-old kid who sounds like a Charlie Parker robot from planet Bebop. These competitions are sucking the life out of the music. It’s really unfortunate.

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

DB: – I listen to the Smiths, Depeche Mode, Steve Reich, John Lurie, and Ornette Coleman (among many others).

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

DB: – I would go back a few years (before my kids were born) and take my wife out to dinner.

JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…

DB: – Are you familiar with the Armenian ensemble, Musaner? I toured quite a bit with them when I lived in Boston.

JBN.S: – Thanks for answers. Yes, of course, I familiar with the Armenian ensemble Musaner from Watertown …

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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