“Playing Jazz, each time is different, something fresh happens. I’m always wanting to reach more deeply than I did the previous time, towards the essential feeling of Jazz which the great records inspire.” Benny Green
“The truth is that the music I’m blessed to be a part of, is forever alive, fresh and reinventing itself as it was born to do – Jazz, in deed more than word, is timeless and one of the hippest, most purely passionate, mind-altering and magically transformational art forms which humans can share with their clothes on.”
JK: Of course it is history that you have played with greats such as Betty Carter, Art Blakey, Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson, Milt Jackson and Freddie Hubbard (and so many more), what musical changes have you noticed over the years?
BG: When I was becoming a Jazz pianist in my teen years which were during the late 1970’s, and in the years that I eventually got to work with these masters which were in the 1980’s and 90’s, I never really considered my tastes as that of an older, per se “traditional” style. I was in fact striving to achieve an authentic African-American Jazz sound and feeling, founded by some of my piano heroes like Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and many others. Over the years, as what’s marketed as “Jazz” has become more eclectic, with more world influences, with the “acid jazz” movement which begot a hip-hop influence (rooted in American R&B and Soul music of the 1960’s and ’70’s), with the prevalent fad of odd meters of a few years back, and so forth, as I’ve dedicated my path to be one of the people who carries the torch of the music that’s been given us to take care of by my mentors, the thriving eternally expansive art of Jazz which is founded in swinging and the Blues, I’ve seen my voice become considered as more “traditional” in relation to the eclectic forms of music popular considered as “Jazz”, while I continue to honestly embrace straight-ahead 4/4 Jazz. The truth is that the music I’m blessed to be a part of, is forever alive, fresh and reinventing itself as it was born to do – Jazz, in deed more than word, is timeless and one of the hippest, most purely passionate, mind-altering and magically transformational art forms which humans can share with their clothes on.
JK: What do you think is the essence of jazz?
BG: Of course, things pertaining to Love are by nature, impossible to encapsulate in words, so as best as I can attempt to verbalize, to me the essence of Jazz is swinging and creatively embracing the feeling of the Blues with intelligence, swagger, grace, bravura, soul and individuality, meaning personality.
JK: And if you could have readers check out one of your articles, which one would it be?
BG: I suppose a couple of my essays, “Buhaina, Entering the Club” and “Bish”, attempt to convey element of how Jazz and the people who’ve devoted their lives to, have touched my heart.
JK: Currently, what is inspiring your playing?
BG: I’m inspired by being in love, listening to great Jazz records and digging the profound levels of human interaction they convey and inform the present with, and getting the chance to play with younger pros as my sidemen who treat this music with deep care as a way of life, all touch my heart and are a few things which inspire my playing.
JK: What are the pros and cons of a formal musical training versus learning on the road and just playing?
BG: Music and musicianship are so infinitely vast, ideally any learning experience, be it in a classroom environment or onstage, can be immeasurable beneficial. If I were forced to choose between the on-the-job training that comes from genius veteran bandleaders who demand excellence, consistency in performance and who have challenged me to dig deep, be creative, not lean on cliches or “isms” and to respect the platform of playing for an audience, over private or group “lessons”, I would emphasize the former. With careful, tireless dedicated study of great Jazz recordings and the arena of strong, experienced bandleaders and serious audiences to play for, one has an environment for limitless development as a Jazz musician. What one learns in school is only as useful as how it ultimately translates in performance, although a good formal training is priceless as well.
JK: What advice would you give aspiring musicians?
BG: I would encourage aspiring musicians to listen intently to recordings of the players and bands who are most personally engaging to themselves, to play along with great records and attempt to emulate what the masters do, and to couple this practice by finding the best, most experienced and personally relevant players who live in their area and are available as teachers, to learn from. Also I would encourage aspiring musicians to seek others who are further along in their development and experience, to play with and learn from. Finally, I feel it’s invaluable to record oneself; get a portable recorder and listen to the reality of how one actually sounds as contrasted with their heroes on record, notice the contrasts between the picture ones ego paints of their own sound, and the truth as reflected in the honest mirror of a home or field recording of themselves practicing, jamming, and performing. This keeps one tracking in honing their sound and feeling, rather than becoming too self deluded through false perception.