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Benny Green possesses the history of jazz at his fingertips. Combine mastery of keyboard technique with decades of real world experience playing with no one less than the most celebrated artists of the last half century, and it’s no wonder Green has been hailed as perhaps the most exciting hard-swinging, hard-bop pianist to ever emerge from Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.
Benny Green, unconditionally, is the bearer of the torch and guardian of a legacy handed down to him, personally, by his musical mentors. His most recent recordings, Live in Santa Cruz (2015) and Magic Beans (2012) (Sunnyside) are shining examples of his brilliance. Since emerging under the tutelage of Betty Carter, Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard and Ray Brown in the early 1980s, Benny Green has become a highly regarded pianist and bandleader. His efforts to expand upon the language of the classical jazz canon have placed him not only among the best interpreters but also among the vanguard of musicians keeping jazz’s evolution going.
Born in New York in 1963, Benny Green grew up in Berkeley, California, and began classical piano studies at the age of seven. Influenced by his father, a tenor saxophonist, his attention soon turned to Jazz: “I began trying to improvise on the piano, imitating the records I’d been hearing from my father’s collection, which included a lot of Monk and Bird… it was a gradual process of teaching myself”. Benny never looked back and never stopped learning as his blossoming talents, supported by mentors such as Walter Bishop, Jr. and others, plus his love for the music propelled him to the upper strata of jazz luminaries.
Benny’s list of credits, accomplishments, and accolades could literally fill a book. His recordings with the masters form a foundation of jazz education. Some notable highlights include: Beginning his touring life with Betty Carter for four years and realizing a life long dream of becoming a Jazz Messenger; In 1993 Oscar Peterson chose Benny as the first recipient of the City of Toronto’s Glen Gould International Protégé Prize in Music culminating in Oscar & Benny (1998) recorded for Telarc. Appearing on well over one hundred recordings, with legacy artists such as: Betty Carter (including Grammy award winner Look What I Got), Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Watson, Milt Jackson, Diana Krall, and he is particularly featured in Ray Brown’s trio series of CD’s for Telarc: Bass Face (1993), Don’t get Sassy (1994), Some of my best friends … (1994), Seven Steps to Heaven (1995), Super Bass (1996) and Live at Sculler’s (1996), to fresh faces like Japan’s young drum virtuouso, Tiger Onitsuka.
As the leader of his own groups, Benny’s recording career began with two albums for the Dutch label Criss Cross: Prelude (1988) and In This Direction (1989). In 1990 Green started recording for Blue Note: Lineage (1990), Greens (1991), Testifiyin’ (1992), That’s Right! (1993), The Place To Be (1994), Kaleidoscope (1997) and These Are Soulful Days (1999). In 2000, his debut recording on Telarc Jazz entitled Naturally was released, which featured bassist Christian McBride and guitarist Russell Malone. In 2001, Green’s Blues, a solo piano date and in 2003 Jazz at the Bistro (Telarc), a duo recording Malone, followed by Bluebird (2004) again pairing Green with Malone. A hiatus from recording produced Benny’s 2011 trio date, Source (JLP).
ABOUT LIVE IN SANTA CRUZ
MASTERFUL PIANIST BENNY GREEN RELEASES LIVE IN SANTA CRUZ!
Sunnyside, May 26, 2015
There are certain music venues that become a home away from home for many musicians. Places where the vibe is right, the crowd is always involved and management is friendly. These perfect arrangements leave lasting impressions on musicians who frequently have to deal with situations that aren’t as pleasant.
The Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz, California is one of these places and the favorite venue of pianist Benny Green. Returning to the site where he recorded a live album on his 30th birthday, Green recorded Live In Santa Cruz to mark both the 20th Anniversary of that gig and his 50th birthday. The night and the performance were magical, as the trio featuring bassist David Wong and drummer Kenny Washington lit up Kuumbwa with a program of all original compositions by Green.
Since emerging under the tutelage of Betty Carter, Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard and Ray Brown in the early 1980s, Benny Green has become a highly regarded pianist and bandleader. His efforts to expand upon the language of the classical jazz canon have placed him not only among the best interpreters but also among the vanguard of musicians keeping jazz’s evolution going.
Some of Green’s best work has been in the trio format, historically a configuration that has been one of the most popular in the advancement of jazz. The ensemble featured here is made up of bassist David Wong, a tremendous musician twenty years younger than Green, and drummer Kenny Washington, one of the most important drummers in the succession to such masters as Art Blakey and Max Roach.
Green has been performing at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center for nearly 35 years. He was introduced to the stage while in the ensembles of Betty Carter and Art Blakey. Since then, Green has tried to make a point of playing the Northern California venue yearly. Begun as a non-profit and festival in 1975, Kuumbwa has maintained a steady presence in the jazz world as one of the premier jazz venues in the United States and is celebrating its 40th Anniversary in 2015.
In 1993, Green celebrated his birthday by recording a live album with the legendary Ray Brown at Kuumbwa. Twenty years later, Green reached out to Kuumbwa to celebrate his 50th birthday and the 20th anniversary of the Brown recording. The results of that wonderful night are reproduced on Live In Santa Cruz.
The recording begins with “Certainly,” a high-energy swinger, which is followed by “Phoebe’s Samba,” an uptempo groover with a Brazilian flare. The subdued “Cactus Flower” is a tempered masterpiece, while the knotty “Sonny Clark” is a monster that would make its namesake proud. “Golden Flamingo” is a slow tempo blues that could melt hearts.
The effervescent “Tales of Malone” is a finger buster with fantastic spots for solos and is followed by “Forgiveness,” a cascading ballad of great beauty. “Bish Bash” begins with some extraordinary interplay between the fleet fingers of Green and the light drums of Washington before hitting its stride. “Anna’s Blues” finishes the set with a crowd-pleasing, joyful strut.
The music of Benny Green is one of warmth and taste, some traits that the management of Kuumbwa Jazz Center have made their prerogative since the venue’s inception forty years ago. Green’s new recording Live In Santa Cruz is a love letter to the place that helped to start his burgeoning career and has helped to push him forward as a successful musician.
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