Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Benjamin Boone. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Benjamin Boone: – I grew up in a small textile town in North Carolina named Statesville. It had 18,000 or so residents when I was there, and only one High School. From an early age I was involved in the music program at the church my family attended. The choir director there, Budd Kirby, a terrific organist, saw that I loved music and really cultivated my musicianship from a very young age. Then I heard some jazz recordings – people like Chuck Mangione, Maynard Fergison, Spyro Gyro, and Grover Washington, Jr. and I was hooked. So fusin was my gateway into folks like Miles, Coltrane and Bird.
JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
BB: – I think the most effective thing for me has been playing along with someone whose sound I really dig. I’ve done that with several players throughout the years and that helps more than any embouchure or technical exercise. In the past six years I’ve been doing a lot of recording, and that helps as well, because you really hear how you sound. You hear all the flaws. So that makes you aware – and as my mentor Jerry Coker always said, awareness is 90% of the solution.
JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
BB: – I spent a year in Ghana as a Fulbright Scholar during 2017-18 and playing with the musicians there really challenged my rhythmic sensibilities. It’s like what I just said about recording – you hear your blemishes. Their groove is second to none and their flexibility with polyrhythms makes your head spin. S each time I played with them I had a serious rhythmic workout!
JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
BB: – I like lots of different music and like being challenged, so this isn’t a problem for me. I am smart enough to know that I don’t really know very much, and that I have tremendous room for growth. That is what I experienced every day in Ghana. So I am open to numerous musical influences.
JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
BB: – I always get nervous, but that gives me focus and energy and makes me work hard to be as fully prepared as I can be. Sometimes I do deep breathing before walking on stage and that helps. During this pandemic I have been meditating regularly with a great app and website called TEN PERCENT HAPPIER. It is very practical and real. I recommend it!
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?
BB: – Then I was able to start jamming with them and it certainly had an impact on my sound. I also played a lot with master Ghanaian xylophonist Aaron Bebe Sukura and thing to fit into that sound world made me more sonically flexible.
JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
BB: – I think that is different for different players. I certainly try and engage them both – by being a thoughtful, mindful player. I think like a composer when I play.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
BB: – As saxophonist Bennie Wallace said to me once, you have to get people onto the train first. Then you accelerate gradually. Then you can go whatever speed you want and go wherever you want. Words of wisdom!
JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
BB: – It was indescribably hot in the UVSL recording studio where we recorded this album. So hot that Bernard Ayisa (the Ghanaian saxophonist) and I had to lay down on the concrete floor between takes to cool off. The studio did have air conditioning, but it had to be off any time we were recording because of the noise. I don’t think I’ve ever consumed so much water and peed so little in my life! But in spite of that, the musicians were so into the process, so into the “zone,” and we were connecting musically so well, that we were having the times of our lives making this music in spite of the heat. In fact, I think the heat made me play much more freely than I would have otherwise. I knew I couldn’t play as technically well as I could under other circumstances, and so I remember thinking to myself “I am just going to go for it and not worry about it. I can always overdub these tracks later when I am back in the US.” So I played with wild abandon. But when I was back in the US and heard what I had done, how free I had been, I realized it would be impossible to recapture that energy and connection and shared purpose that we had in Ghana. Needless to say, I didn’t do any overdubs!
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
BB: – Well, I don’t think one is dependent on the other. If you do standards you can do them a different and new way or don’t use them and create new pieces – like we did on four of the tracks. Regardless, getting the music out there where people can hear it is important. Folks like pianist Tigran Hamasyan are doing a great job blending styles into a new and creative way that resonates with young people. So is Hiromi and Snarky Puppy.
JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
BB: – Well, I know enough to know that I don’t know! All I know is that it is amazing that we are all here on this planet and that we should cherish our existence and cherish everything that exists. I mean, it is truly freaky that we “are.” Let’s cherish that.
JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
BB: – Probably the business side of music. It is really hard for a ton of creative folks to earn a decent a living today from music making along. It is cool people can get known online and that people can share their music with a wide audience – there is a beauty in that – but you can get a million plays on Spotify and not make much.
JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
BB: – Right before this interview I listened to a broadcast from the DC Jazz Fest of a Kenny Garrett concert. Corcoran Holt is the bassist. He’s on my next album. I just love this group. SO much energy and interaction. I love Kenny’s sound. Last night I played along with Coltrane doing Naima and Favorite Things and sat with my kids to watch a Snarky Puppy video from their SF Jazz concert.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
BB: – I guess it all boils down to cherishing life.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
BB: – Well, we are in the middle of a pandemic, so maybe to a time when there is a vaccine and people aren’t suffering so much – to a time of world peace would be nice too J
JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
BB: – I just want everyone to stay safe during this pandemic, and to remember our common humanity. We are all in this together and we need to help and support each other and be kind to each other.
JBN: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
BB: – Here in California we are in :shelter in place: mode, and so I am using this time to bond with my wife and kids and focus on some music projects. I try and adapt and make the best of whatever situation I find myself in.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan