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Ben Sidran's First All-Instrumental Album, 'Swing State,' Set For Sept 16 Release On Nardis Records, Distributed By Bonsai

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The three of us [Billy Peterson, bass, & Leo Sidran, drums] share a special musical feel.
—Ben Sidran
Sixty years into a wildly accomplished career that counts music as only the foremost of many aspects, Ben Sidran takes yet another new direction with the September 16 release of Swing State (Bonsai/Nardis). Long known for his lively, bluesy singing style (in the vein of his mentor Mose Allison), the 78-year-old finally gives his vocal cords a rest with an all-instrumental jazz album with Leo Sidran, his son, on drums and Billy Peterson, a co-conspirator of nearly five decades, on bass.

If a strictly instrumental album seems to have been a long time coming, Sidran can honestly say that he’s been busy with many, many other things. Aside from singing and playing piano, the hats he’s worn across the years include academic, rock star, session player, songwriter, record producer, film composer, author, and broadcaster. Let nobody accuse him of being afraid of trying something new.

Even so, Sidran acknowledges that he got nervous about putting out a piano record when he considered the competition. “With all the brilliant piano players around,” he says, “I never wanted to enter that fray.”

The finished product, however, is not a leap into some great unknown. Anyone who knows the boisterous personality, blues roots, and storyteller’s polish of Sidran’s singing voice will immediately recognize it in his piano voice, too. He need not open his mouth to imbue either the classic swinger “Stompin’ at the Savoy” or the ballad “Laura” with his quirky perspective and wry humor. Likewise, his original “Swing State” makes as powerful a rhythmic and melodic statement as Sidran’s vocals ever did—without his uttering a syllable.

Nor does the lack of vocal work throw off his accompanists, both of whom are more than acquainted with Sidran’s sound and persona. “The three of us share a special musical feel,” the pianist says. Indeed, Leo Sidran (another multifaceted artist of equal accomplishment to his father) has played drums with Ben practically since he was old enough to reach the kit—and almost as long with Peterson, who’s worked with the elder Sidran since before the younger was born.

All told, these elements make Swing State less a bold new venture than another very natural extension of Sidran’s considerable artistic range. The wait for it only increases the welcome.

Ben Sidran was born August 12, 1943, in Chicago. He grew up in Racine, Wisconsin, but learned jazz through the records that his advertising executive father brought him from work in the Second City. His first love was boogie-woogie, which he taught himself to play on piano—but when he received a Horace Silver]] album for his bar mitzvah, he knew that that was the direction for him.<br /><br />Attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Sidran befriended future icons of the {{jny: San Franciscoscene Steve Miller and Boz Scaggs, joining them in a blues band called the Ardells. They separated when Sidran traveled to England to earn his master’s and doctorate degrees but reunited in 1968 to record what would become the first album by the Steve Miller Band. Sidran would soon enjoy a brief stint as a member, and for several years remain an auxiliary contributor to the band, writing their early hit “Space Cowboy.”

Meanwhile, Sidran was working on his dissertation (which became the first of his five books); working on sessions with the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and Peter Frampton; and making records of his own, beginning with 1971’s Feel Your Groove. He also became a renowned and highly successful producer, collaborating with artists ranging from the Steve Miller Band and Van Morrison to Diana Ross and Mose Allison in addition to producing his own albums. He even became a broadcaster, hosting two award-winning National Public Radio series (Jazz Alive and Sidran on Record) and the VH1 television program New Visions, which won a Cable Ace Award.

Making music remained Sidran’s primary passion, however, and his discography has become extensive. Swing State is his 40th release under his own name. He and his trio will celebrate its release with engagements at Crooners, Minneapolis, August 19-20; Café Coda, Madison, WI, August 23; Neranenah, Atlanta, August 25; and the Green Mill in Chicago, August 26-27.

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