Meet Benito Gonzalez: The fusion of world rhythms and straight-ahead jazz make this passionate performer an audience favorite all over the world. Benito Gonzalez is being recognized as an exciting pianist and composer for his well-received debut album, Starting Point, (with Christian McBride, Antonio Sanchez, Rene McLean and Ron Blake) and as winner of the 2005 Great American Jazz Piano Competition.
Presently, Benito is creating a very personal body of work for his sophomore album as a leader that will feature him as an improviser. He is also touring with international jazz artist, Kenny Garrett, adding numerous festivals and international jazz club dates to his credit. Benito has shared the stage with Curtis Fuller, Pharaoh Sanders, Bobby Hutcherson, Christian McBride, Rene McLean, Steve Turré, Hamiet Bluiett, Antonio Sanchez, T.K. Blue, Nicholas Payton and Jackie Mclean.
His multi-cultural talents have led to frequent recording dates; from American jazz masters to West African musicians to Latin bands. He has also served as musical director for several Venezuelan recording artists.
The Benito Gonzalez Trio has appeared at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland and the Jacksonville Jazz Festival in addition to many other noted jazz venues.
Teachers and/or influences? I am self-taught, but I have many influences: Bud Powell, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when... Early...when I was growing up, playing percussion (Afro-Venezuelan music) with my uncles.
Your sound and approach to music: My sound is part of my experiences in life - so it changes as my life changes. My approach is just to play what I hear and what I feel comfortable with.
Your dream band: Jack DeJohnette on drums and Christian McBride on bass (who is actually on my first album).
I always like to have a balance when I put bands together and I think Christian is a good, solid bassist and Jack is always moving.
Anecdote from the road: Something unusual is that we had a tour for two weeks with Kenny Garrett and Kenny's luggage and Jamire William's cymbals were missing after the first gig! For two weeks, the luggage never showed up - not until they got back to the U.S.
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? To open more doors for young, up-and-coming players.
Did you know... I just got my first real (Steinway grand) piano at age 32.
What is in the near future? Right now I'm getting together my working trio for touring and to do my next album.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.