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Take Five with Jimmy Bennington

Jimmy Bennington By

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Meet Jimmy Bennington:
Jimmy Bennington was born May 22, 1970 in Columbus, OH. Mentored by late Coltrane drummer Elvin Jones, Bennington celebrates 25 years in the music field in 2015. Jimmy has performed and recorded with many artists including David Haney, Perry Robinson, Julian Priester, Steve Cohn, Ed Schuller, Daniel Carter, Ken Filiano, and Fred Jackson of the AACM. Career highlights include performances in Paris and New York, at Fred Anderson's Velvet Lounge, and at the Chicago Jazz Festival, and inclusion in "Best Recordings of 2014" in Down Beat Magazine. Bennington is a recording artist for Cadence Jazz Records, CIMP Records, CIMPoL Records, OA2 Records, Unseen Rain Records, and his own ThatSwan! label.

Instrument(s):
Drums/Thumb Piano.

Teachers and/or influences?
All the blues and jazz greats. Elvin Jones was very important... Son House... Howlin Wolf... Jimi Hendrix... the drummers Philly Joe Jones, Roy Haynes, Max Roach, Art Blakey... Malcolm Pinson of Billy Harper fame... as well as guys like saxophonist Bert Wilson, and drummers Sunny Murray, Billy Mintz, Ron Enyard. I got to meet many of them in person and found them to be unique and thoughtful artists.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
I was five when I got my first drum. I finally got a toy drum set when I was about twelve and have been playing someway, somehow ever since. I saw a jazz drummer play at a mall when I was around fifteen and the mastery of his movements and the different sound of the jazz music the trio was playing knocked me out and forced me to look at music, or what I thought of at that time as music, in a totally different and much more subtle way.

Your sound and approach to music:
I am a Coltrane disciple since the age of 20. That, more than anything, has affected my total approach to jazz and improvisation, blues, all music really... I am constantly developing the sound on my chosen instrument to assist in allowing for the most possible and attainable expression.

Your teaching approach:
Just to share what I have learned... the basics... the nuances, the why and how... the importance of doing things as naturally as possible. I have enjoyed all encounters with students whether they be a young child or a seasoned University student. I am the better for it after each encounter.

Your dream band:
Funnily enough, I am working with my dream band now. In the sense that things have come far along enough that I have had good fortune mixed with opportunity to know and work with people who's music I admire. Of course, I hear the great past Masters and have played along with the records, fantasizing all the while that I am with them... Pee Wee Russell, Coltrane, Walt Dickerson, Calvin Hill, etc., etc. But in reality, I am happy to know and work with some of the best cats around... Fred Jackson of the AACM, Artie Black, legendary bassist Brian Smith, Mike Harmon, Swiss guitarist Sam Mosching, Steve Cohn, Ed Schuller, Daniel Carter, Perry Robinson, Demian Richardson, etc.

Road story: Your best or worst experience:
I have had some pretty terrible ones (experiences)... suffered an assault from a jealous bartender a few years ago now... three broken ribs and a concussion... recently though, I am remember being a passenger along with clarinet great Perry Robinson in pianist Steve Cohn's van on the way to the Cadence Jazz Festival being held at the Shapeshifter Lab in Brooklyn... we had left early from New Jersey and after four solid hours in traffic, thought we were going to miss the gig. Steve drove in such a way that made us afraid for our lives. One of the most hectic car rides I have been in... finally there, we had to set up, and as we were late, we had to play immediately. I had to demand five minutes rest and a can of cold Kirin beer before we took the stage. They had streaming video running the concert around the globe, and a nice audience of connoisseurs... once the first note was played, the stress fell away and we made memorable music... and I got to shake Jimmy Garrison's son Mathew's hand, hang with the great guitarist Dom Minasi, and to reflect then and there on how very hard it was, has been, and is... for all of us... and also to know how, in the end, it's totally worth it.

Favorite venue:
I played a gig once at an inner city housing project in Houston in the 1990's where two rival gangs in attendance both carried me in the air around the room after our show. I do a regular thing a few Saturdays a month at the Rhythm Room Bar and Bistro in Evanston, Illinois. A very nice elegant and old time lounge that gives me a chance to explore the greater subtleties and dynamics in the music. The converse of that is the Red Line Tap in Roger's Park... it's anything goes there and reminds us all on a monthly basis what it's really all about and we play "from a whisper to a thunder" to quote Elvin Jones... For sentimental reasons, my favorite venue was Fred Anderson's Velvet Lounge. I was lucky to come in on the tail end of it all. I first played two nights there with legendary trombonist Julian Priester, another night with clarinetist Perry Robinson, and then played several times under my own steam... Fred was always there at the door, taking covers, talking to folks, and checking the music... he was easy to hang with. One of the jobs was in February—Chicago was frozen and we made it though the sleet, the ice and snow, to play a very intimate concert for Fred, the bartender, and two or three other people. It was a great thrill to play to your utmost with Fred closing his eyes... listening intently.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
I am proud of them all and have no favorite. That said, The Walk to Montreuil on Cadence Jazz Records has many points that stand out... I was told by the producer, Bob Rusch, in his office that I was "a terrible salesman" and who then told me Cadence would release the record. The circumstances in which it was made were special also, the pianist losing his father only days before, the surroundings of the French ghetto where we recorded, my being an American in Paris, the liner notes, the label... I am proud of it. It is an accomplishment.

The first Jazz album I bought was:
I bought four: A "Best of" Louis Armstrong, two by John Coltrane... My Favorite Things, Blue Train, and Question and Answer with Pat Metheny, Dave Holland, and Roy Haynes... Roy is just outstanding!

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
I believe in carrying on the legacy, passing along the information, giving others a chance as I was given a chance... being sincere whenever I play. People notice this and I have a warm feeling of deep communication at almost every place and setting I have played. Someone often comes up and says, "You know I don't even like jazz! But I loved what you did tonight!"

Did you know...
I love to write short stories and now have a finished manuscript based mostly on my experiences... some things from my imagination, like the one called "What Happens to Old Blacksmiths?"

CDs you are listening to now:
All Coltrane
Solo Sonny Simmons
Any Sunny Murray
"Everybody's Hollerin' Goat" Othar Turner Rising Star Fife and Drum Band
Byard Lancaster— All John's Children

Desert Island picks:
John Coltrane Live at Birdland
Bill EvansCalifornia Here I Come
Sonny SharrockAsk the Ages
Chick CoreaNow He Sings Now He Sobs
Elvin Jones—Live at Town Hall

How would you describe the state of jazz today?
The sense of tradition and legacy seems to be disintegrating... the true music doesn't get to the people... the venues are fewer and more exclusive (elusive) to get into... musicians and artists have to have something for themselves and so are more secretive about their activities, for fear of other musicians trying to take the gig. When things are desperate to that degree, one is lucky to be able to find a few places to cultivate a relationship with and perform there until something changes. More and more I see that those who have financial resources are able to not only withstand the poor financial return, but also to pay for promotional support and booking services etc. It is very hard breaking into quality venues and can be very disillusioning... but we must all try to play where and when we can and with as much dignity as possible... if not for ourselves, for the sake of the music.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
Keep playing the music... new music and standards... tin pan alley... and keep the stories, the legends, the style and the essence alive. Whether one is self taught or out of a university, there should always be an almost tribal feeling to what they are doing... the feeling of jazz music... the past masters... the great and intricate history, the sense of being a part of something. Without this, it will go, and is going, the way of the CEO's and privatized corporations... the individual forever locked outside the great closed doors and interminable walls.

What is in the near future?
I'd like to tour France in 2016... play with some old friends there. More releases 2015 and 2016 on CIMP Records A Little While in Chicago and CIMPoL Records, Boom! Live at the Bop Shop—I hope to continue playing and making recordings for as long as possible.

What song would you like played at your funeral?
"All John's Children" as played by Sonny Sharrock.

What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?
I like to riff on Basie riff's or certain runs or lines I hear Jazz artists play.

By Day:
A low toiler to pay rent, bills, phone, train, food... then onto the hustle!

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:
Thoughtful dreamer unperturbed by booking agents.

What is the reward you feel that you get from being a jazz artist?

That maybe I have brought peace and unity into the air and among men and that I have become a part of something larger than myself.
About Jimmy Bennington
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