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BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Benny Benack, III

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BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Benny Benack, III
Benny Benack, III

One of the amazing things about working at Jazz at Lincoln Center for the past 12 years has been seeing the next generation of musicians and singers take steps along their careers. Someone from the Programming Team has heard a young artist play somewhere and has decided they have what it takes to be a part of one of JALC's performances, whether it be the late night set in Dizzy's Club, teaching in one of the Jazz Education events or performing in the educational Jazz for Young People shows or playing on the big stage, the room specifically designed for Jazz music where the famed Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra plays, the 1,233 seat Rose Theater.

Trumpeter and singer, Benny Benack, III has made that journey, all by the age of 29. He is a down to earth guy that is larger than life on stage. The Pittsburgh native is the third both in namesake and as a jazz musician.

While I've seen him backstage and in the spotlight many times, it wasn't until I entered The Appel Room this past January during JALC's Jazz Congress that I really saw him in his element. The Congress is a magical two day partnership between Jazz at Lincoln Center and JazzTimes. The Congress is described as, "an annual conference designed to bring together artists, media and industry leaders in the global jazz community to exchange ideas in order to nurture and grow the jazz community and the underlying business and organizations that promote, produce, present, market and support the music." The session at the moment was entitled, "Stage Presence: A

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Benny Benack, III
Benny with Marilyn Maye

Master Class".

What a master class it was! The panelists were Russell Hall, Richard Julian, Christian McBride, Brianna Thomas and the Marvelous Marilyn Maye. Benny was the moderator. He was outstanding. He gave each performer time to shine by asking them helpful questions, but also let them talk freely as needed. It's a fine line as a moderator to guide the panel, but try to not over control the session. It seemed as though Benny had been doing this for years. His natural charisma came out just as it does when he is performing one of his favorite jazz tunes.

If this name, Benny Benack, III is new to you, I suggest you go to his website or listen to one of his two studio albums. I can't wait to see what the future holds for this young, talented jazz musician!

NA: Who is your mentor and what would you like to say to your mentor?

BB: My biggest mentor would be the world-class trumpeter Sean Jones, who serendipitously was living in Pittsburgh at the time I was growing up. He was instrumental in my development as a trumpeter, developing my understanding of Jazz music, as well as encouraging me to audition and network with a number of summer programs and competitions, some of which led to my college education, and closest musical collaborators. Seeing all that he's accomplished in the years since (From playing lead trumpet with the JALC orchestra, to running the Jazz department at Peabody Conservatory, to lead the Carnegie Hall/NYO Jazz Orchestra program, to being the President Elect of the Jazz Education Network), he is a constant reminder that wearing many hats and being a versatile artist is the key to longevity and success. I would simply say, "Thank you for setting such a sterling example of how to excel in a tough, tough biz!"

NA: What has this business given you and what has it taken away?

BB: This business has taught me patience, and the virtues of embracing the journey, not being so obsessed with the finish line. When I was younger, I wanted the world to come to me the moment

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Benny Benack, III
Benny with Evan Sherman, Wynton Marsalis, Russell Hall and Luke Celnza

I burst onto the scene, and would become frustrated at times when I felt like I wasn't conquering empires one after the other in quick succession. Over time, I came to realize the most sustaining artists took their time to build up their career, block by block, gig by gig, connection by connection, and as a result, they built a steady foundation. The #1 thing I would say this crazy life has taken from me, is getting 8 hours of sleep every night! There's not enough hours in the day to be one's own musical director, booking agent, tour manager, PR specialist, recording engineer and editing team, but that's the way the industry is these days...no rest for the weary!

NA: What is the hour like before you go on stage?

BB: I am usually frantically "warming up" my trumpet chops, anxiously fingering through my classical studies, making sure my embouchure is in good working order...The quickest way to a night of terror for a trumpet player is having his "chops" not cooperate, so I am obsessively-diligent about getting my body right before a show. Ironically, my vocal "warm up" consists of

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Benny Benack, III
Benny with Susie Mosher

drinking some whiskey on the rocks right before I go on stage, and then usually during as well...Both methods are effective!

NA: If you could experience one performance over again, which one would it be and why?

BB: The biggest thrill I've had in my career so far, was touring the world w/Post Modern Jukebox last Fall...I was the MC/Host of the show, and it was the first time I had played in arenas to thousands of people before (at least where I was in a central role)...Volkswagon Arena in Istanbul, Turkey stands out as a particular invigorating night, and you can't really describe the electricity of that many people grooving to the same beat at the same time...Magic!

NA: What are you most proud of?

BB: I would say my most recent album "A Lot of Livin' to Do" that came out just pre-Covid in late January 2020. It's my second album, and I think there's a lot of artistic growth evident in the few years between it and my first album "One of a Kind". Self-releasing a record these days is a daunting task, but I couldn't be happier with how the music came out, and how it's been received so far. Check it out!

NA: When is your first memory of the trumpet and what drew you to learning how to play it?

BB: I actually started playing piano when I was about 5, and it wasn't until a few years later that a trumpet was placed into my hands by my parents (technically it was a cornet of my grandfather's, because I was too tiny to play a full-sized trumpet). I loved that it was the loudest instrument, and could always be heard above the cacophony of everyone else...I guess in that way you could say it suited my personality ;) - It was always a chore to get me to sit still and practice my piano studies, but once I began trumpet, practicing became my obsession, not something I was obligated to do.

NA: You come from a long line of musicians. What nuggets of wisdom and advice did your Grandfather and Father give you?

BB: I actually never got to meet my grandfather Benny Benack Sr. - he passed away from lung cancer before I was born. In that way, I guess that was a bit in indirect advice, never to get hung up on tobacco, no matter how cool Chet Baker or Miles Davis looked smoking cigarettes! Having BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Benny Benack, IIIa father who plays Jazz obviously has been a huge asset to my early development, and not many people can just call up their Dad when they need advice on how much to quote someone for a gig, or someone to look over a contract to make sure they're not trying to screw the band...My mother Claudia is also a singer, and teaches voice in the Drama Department at Carnegie Mellon University, so she also has experience in my world, and taught me the importance of being professional, well-dressed, and on-time!

NA: I, myself have a deep love of Jazz at Lincoln Center after having the honor of working there for 12 years as a House Manager. What has been your favorite memory thus far working on tour or on one of the stages as part of JALC?

BB: JALC has been such a pivotal supporter of my career, from my very first years in NYC. I have a number of fond memories, from both of my album release shows being at Dizzy's, to celebrating my birthday almost annually by performing a "Late Night Series" week there with my band, to headlining a "Crooners" show in the Appel Room, to performing w/Ulysses Owens Jr. Big Band in

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Benny Benack, III
Benny with Ann Hampton Callaway

Rose Theater...all of those gigs have been special to me...but the most impactful gig JALC has ever entrusted me with, was being a Performing Artist in their "Jazz For Young People" program for the last handful of years. They send bands into schools in the NY-greater area, many of which don't have band programs, and we not only play for the kids, but we also educate them. "Jazz & Democracy", "Jazz & the Civil Rights Movement", "Jazz & the Harlem Renaissance" are just a few topics we covered, and seeing the looks on those kids faces when they hear swing for the first time, is a deeply moving experience.

NA: Many fans say they love the dynamic personality you have on stage. How did that develop or do you think you were you born with it?

BB: I have to give credit to my parents for that...Many who have seen all three Benny Benack's perform, often remark on the uncanny similarities between my own stage mannerisms and speaking to my grandfather's (which is eerie to me, since we never met nor did I ever see footage of him performing). When my Dad talks on his gigs, people say they think it's me! As for my

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Benny Benack, III
Benny with Walter Blanding

gregarious, boisterous side, I think that comes from my Mama, who is quite the expressive "Diva" in her own right! My parents raised me to be proud of who I am, and embrace my own weirdness, and I have never lacked for confidence as a result. I think what people connect with on stage, is my fearlessness to let my guard down and be myself, and show them my fun-loving, goofy side, rather than try to play some "role" of the "cool, distant Jazz man". Jazz to me is FUN, and I want the audience to feel that as well.

NA: At just 29 you have accomplished many things in the music industry. What is one goal that you'd like to see yourself achieve in the future?

BB: I am inspired by the careers of the crooners before me who were able to parlay their musical success into other fields, such as Frank Sinatra & Harry Connick Jr. - I have always envisioned myself acting somewhere down the road (I was the lead in all the high school musicals, does that count?), and I love how those two gentlemen in particular were able to transition so seamlessly to that craft. I also have a pipe dream to host my own Late Night talk show, but instead of someone like Doc Severensin leading the band, I'll be the first host to do both myself!


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From This Author Nicholas Adler