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Daniel Bennett: The Bear Truth

Ludwig vanTrikt By

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A good friend of mine once told me that great music should always give you chills down your spine. I took his advice.
Whether considered a member of Generation X or Y, saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist/composer and bandleader Daniel Bennett's career certainly is indicative of how many young artists' careers are ascending with the advent of the internet. But Daniel has a measured cynicism towards balancing live performance with the wonders of tech.

Moreover what is also refreshing about this young musician is his candor. He readily admits to being very raw when his career began in earnest only a few years ago, not even wanting to initially call himself a jazz artist—though he does say he combined the twang of Bill Frisell's with Jimmy Giuffre's dry folkism. When it is observed that his early recordings had a sameness about them, his response was honest and vulnerable. And the recurring motif of using a bear as a theme... is unique and irresistible. You will see.

All About Jazz: Would it be accurate to say that you represent the first generation of jazz artists for whom using the Internet and mixed media—in your case animation—are a given, in terms of using these tools to launch your career?

Daniel Bennett: Absolutely! The Internet has revolutionized every single aspect of music career management and development. However, I constantly push myself to work out my development in the physical realm too! It's so important for jazz players to constantly collaborate, practice, travel, and interact with listeners. Sometimes the Internet can be a negative distraction for artists.

I will say that the Internet has become an amazing tool for marketing. A great example of this is the ongoing concert series that the Daniel Bennett Group curates at the Triad Theatre in Manhattan and the Cambridge YMCA Theatre in Boston. We have recently shared billings at both of these venues with artists like Bill Frisell, Charlie Hunter, James Carter, Greg Osby, Billy Martin and Steve Kuhn.

And the amazing thing is that we have never used print advertising or radio to promote any of these concerts. All of our marketing is done online.

We use websites like Facebook, Twitter, Reverbnation, All About Jazz, and countless others. The Internet has also changed the way we sell our music. A working band can now record and produce albums independently and then simply enlist a service like CD Baby to distribute their music to iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Napster, and hundreds of other sites.

However, as I mentioned earlier, a band must have a physical following and real world experience in order to truly be relevant. It's important for artists to remember that music is crafted and perfected in our practice rooms, far away from the allure of the Internet. It's really a delicate balance.

AAJ: Let's delve into your roots.

DB: I grew up in Honeoye Falls, New York, a very small town in the Rochester area. I started playing the saxophone when I was ten years old. My first band director encouraged me to play trumpet. She felt that my lips were better shaped for a brass instrument. When asked what my top three instrument choices were, I marked saxophone, saxophone, saxophone!

Needless to say, my mind had been made up. I remember when 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. Keep in mind—I grew up in the country. We didn't get to hear jazz on a regular basis. As I got older, I joined the jazz band, wind ensemble, marching band, and began playing in music theater pit orchestras at the middle school and high school. I also began taking saxophone lessons from a renowned local composer and woodwind-doubler, Greg Knapp. In 1996, our high school jazz ensemble placed second in the Essentially Ellington jazz competition. I can remember traveling to New York for the finals. It was my first trip to the city. As a finalist in the competition, we performed a piece with Wynton Marsalis. What an amazing experience for a bunch of high school kids from the country!

Around that same time, I began to teach myself guitar. This was probably the most important moment in my early development. I started a rock band, and spent every waking hour writing songs and rehearsing. I still write all of my music from the guitar to this day. I can remember traveling through the cold streets of Rochester with my electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and four saxophones!

We would play in coffee houses, homeless shelters, churches, and pretty much any venue that would have us! I remember driving to a local mall on Christmas Eve. We showed up unannounced, set up our gear and played Christmas songs for people. It lasted about thirty minutes before we were shut down by mall security and escorted off the premises.

Upon graduating from high school, I attended Roberts Wesleyan College, a small Christian school in the Rochester suburbs. I was fortunate enough to study with world-class artists like pianist Joe Santora, Nancy Boone, Michael Landrum, and Paul Shewan, to name a few. I immersed myself in the Rochester jazz scene, performing in all of the top venues and festivals around the city, and also playing in church three times a week!

In 2002, I moved to Boston to attend grad school at the New England Conservatory. I was one of those oddballs who studied both jazz and classical music. I took lessons with Ken Radnofsky, Jerry Bergonzi, and George Garzone. In addition, I performed in an ensemble led by percussion guru, Bob Moses. I was fortunate enough to also perform concerts at the school with Bob Brookmeyer and Steve Lacy.

This was a very stressful time in my life. I can remember playing in the NEC wind ensemble and then running off to a jazz performance with Bob Moses. I was playing some pretty serious classical music from the likes of Pat Harbison, Ibert, Dahl, Desenclos, and Glazunov. At the same time I was performing in improv classes with Jerry Bergonzi, Ken Schaphorst, and Bob Moses. I also studied microtonality with the late-great Joe Maneri. I thank the Lord that I made it out of NEC in one piece!

AAJ: Do you view yourself as a jazz artist?

DB: Most people would categorize me as a jazz artist. That works for me. I actually perform jazz standards on quite a few gigs. I have been labeled as the experimental folk jazz guy, but I actually love playing standards as well. To me it's all just music! All I care about is entertaining and uplifting my audience. I don't follow jazz trends at all. A good friend of mine once told me that great music should always give you chills down your spine. I took his advice. I won't listen to music or write music unless I get chills! I really mean that.
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