By Kristi Kates
Benny Greens discography reads like - well, like a very long discography. Greens work, both on his own as a highly-regarded jazz pianist and also as a sideman to everyone from Art Blakey to Cecil Brooks III, Betty Carter to Bob Belden, Ray Brown to Freddie Hubbard, is more than impressive, spanning well over 100 album appearances.
And now, hell be adding to his equally lengthy list of live performances with a show at Interlochens Dendrinos Chapel and Recital Hall on November 4.
MONK AND BIRD
Growing up in Berkeley California, Green was largely influenced by his father, a jazz tenor saxophone player, and started studying piano at around 8 years old.
Of course his fathers jazz work would find its way into Greens musical consciousness, even as a kid. As he says in his official bio, I began trying to improvise on the piano, imitating the records Id been hearing from my fathers record collection.
Those records included a lot of Thelonious Monk and Bird - aka Charlie Parker - so the youthful pianist was already being influenced by the best.
He played in a series of school bands, got an early shot playing in a trio that opened for jazz singer Fay Carroll, soon found himself working with the likes of Eddie Henderson and big-band leader Chuck Israels - and then decided it was time to take a shot at his music in the Big Apple.
That decision would prove to be as fruitful for his career as the citys nickname.
NY STATE OF SOUND
Once he got settled in New York City, Green began studying with pianist Walter Bishop Jr., whom he says helped point me in the direction of developing my own sound.
A wide range of performances and collaborations would quickly follow, including stints with Bobby Watson, Betty Carter, and finally, the band he became most known for working with, Art Blakeys Jazz Messengers.
After several years with Blakey and his crew, Green began his own recording career with a pair of albums for a Dutch record label; hed soon move on to sign with the legendary Blue Note. But progress would keep him moving.
Seven albums into Blue Note, hed move forward and drop his debut on Telarc - 2000s Naturally - and would find himself encouraged into attempting new musical experiments via his guitarist Russell Malone and bassist Christian McBride. 2002s Greens Blues then allowed Green to utilize that jazz growth, as he updated a series of jazz standards by the likes of George Gershwin, Fats Waller, and Duke Ellington. For Green, its about constantly growing as a musician.
ITS GOTTA SWING
For myself and a lot of musicians I admire, the main focus is to just swing and have fun... if Im able to convey that, then I feel like Im doing something positive, he says. Greens personal style has evolved in a jazz melting-pot way via his whopping 46 years of experience (though youd never know it looking at his still-boyish face), and his style shifts over the years have only served to strengthen his ability to deftly move through an arrangement with his own signature flourishes while staying true to the tune itself. While Greens had little classical training (...whatever technical facility I have is mostly self-taught, he said in a recent Jazz Review interview), his confidence and knowledge of the material - not to mention the combined respect and joy he passes along through the music - belies his lack of traditional musical education.
And as if that werent enough to draw in audiences, listeners might also be surprised by Greens onstage demeanor.
A focused, serious player most of the time, when his quirky sense of humor surfaces unexpectedly, it adds even more personality to his performances, and yet another dimension to a man who has already conquered so many facets of his musical career.
Benny Green will be performing at Interlochen on Thursday, November 4 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 adult, $17 senior, and $9 student, and are available online at https://tickets.interlochen.org, or by calling the box office at 231-276-7800. For more on Benny Green, visit his website at www.bennygreenmusic.com.