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Benny Benack III: Presentation matters

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Benny Benack III didn't necessarily start out thinking he would be a hipster crooner. He spent his 10,000 hours dealing with the trumpet, and he's still dealing with it. He tells me that he brings it with him everywhere—even on dates. He says, "Freddie Hubbard, Clifford Brown, Roy Hargrove, and Clark Terry were my early idols and everything about my musical identity is steeped in the trumpet vocabulary."

Benny grew up in Pittsburgh, the third in a trilogy of musical Benny Benacks (he follows in the footsteps of his trumpeter/bandleader grandfather, Benny Benack, Sr., and his father Benny Benack, Jr., a saxophonist/clarinetist). Young Benny (sometimes he goes by the moniker BB3) was made very aware of his own family ties to the music and also the Pittsburgh tradition that also produced Roy Eldridge, Earl Hines, Art Blakey, Billy Strayhorn and so many more.

Benny is a serious musician, a deep swinger, who clearly loves both the blues and a sweet melody. He loves to be on the scene; he leads a weekly jam session at Smalls, and when Covid shut down indoor gigs, he took it to the street, setting up outdoors and keeping the flame lit.

Somewhere along the line he started to take his singing more seriously too. He always sang—his mother is a singer, and he understood the value of being able to deliver a tune from early on. But more and more the signs were pointing him towards singing and playing—and towards the art of stagecraft, entertainment, and presentation. Today he says, only half joking, I think, that he is a song and dance man.

This turned out to be an incredibly interesting and provocative talk, and we covered an enormous amount of ground. Benny is extremely thoughtful, completely aware of where he fits in, where he's coming from, and where he would like to be going. Along the way he talked about "the relentless commitment of playing trumpet," the value of stagecraft, jam session etiquette, keeping old songs fresh, why he's sometimes accused of being "too entertaining," how come he takes his trumpet on dates, and what he calls "the elephant in the room."

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