Benny LacknerInterview with Benny Lackner and Caroline Mannins by Andrew Lorien

Benny was born in Berlin, moved to California at age 13.  He studied under Charlie Haden, Brad Mehldau, and a dozen other geniuses.  They've all called him a genius.  He spreads his time between New York, Berlin, and wherever he's touring at the moment, which could be anywere.  This tour is 17 dates in Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, and NZ :   I became interested in how the tour came together, and asked them a few questions on the Eve of his Launch tour:

Caroline from new Zealand, and Benny from new York and Berlin

AL: how did you first meet? How much face to face time did you have compared to Skype time to organise this tour?

BL: Hello Andrew, thanks for doing this interview… I met Caroline through her husband, Roger Manins, before my first gig in NZ at the Creative Jazz Society in Auckland which they had organized for me ! Then we actually only spoke one time in person after that and never skyped once…the only thing we did do was send about 10,000 emails back and fourth…communication with Caroline has always been very clear, which is why this works!

CM: I'm now based in Auckland, tho lived and performed in Sydney for 10 years, (moving there from England).  I co-run CJC – Creative Jazz Club Aotearoa along with Roger and Ben McNicholl and first met Benny last year when the trio performed at the club. We sort of bumped into each other briefly at our house – Benny spoke of his plans to tour the following year and I spoke of my vision to create a CJC national touring scheme and we both sort of said, well ok lets do it then. We've communicated exclusively over email and it's been not only a pleasure working with him, but a great learning experience too, working alongside someone with his clarity of vision. He's very on to it, clear and responsive and it sat right, from the word go.

AL: With established connections in Europe and North America, what's the value of rushing across all the Sparse landscape and oceans of the south pacific to find a few new fans?

BL: Well, I believe in carving out markets for myself all over the world and making long term, lasting connections with people who support music. I will go as far as it takes…there is nothing better for me than to travel and play music. It also helps the music grow if you continue to play in listening situations as much as possible..this is the main reason for touring for me!

AL: The tour is almost all small venues – it's a big financial risk to come all the way here without guaranteed fees or a festival audience every weekend. And there aren't enough days off to visit the reef or the desert. That's not really a question…

BL: Yes, but we are doing so many concerts in a row that it actually is not a big risk. We do have a lot of guarantees and a lot of the flights are paid for by some of the promoters (we are taking around 14 flights in 20 days…)!!!

AL: When the two of you were negotiating the tour nitty gritty, where did the balance lie between making money (even if it isn't a great gig) ; having fun times (at the expense of playing more shows) ; and finding a new audience (even if it starts off as a very small one)?

CL: Yeh, good question.  Those (hopefully informed) decisions were ultimately Benny's but I'd say a key factor lies in the balancing and the mitigation of risk. A bedrock of funding can help underwrite you against loss and give you enough freedom to choose to shoulder the risk at times in favour of playing and audience development, that would not be financially viable otherwise.

BL: This is going to be my 4th tour in Asia and Australia and third in NZ… it gets better every time and one starts getting a feel for which places are going to grow an audience for us in the future and which places turn out to be sort of a dead end. So then the next time around you just go to where it worked last time and never go back to the ones that didn’t.

AL: In the last few years lots of Australian jazz players, especially some of the younger ones, have been gravitating to new York and Berlin, more than we have for decades. Have you met any? Who do you like?

BL: Yes, Barney McCall is an amazing pianist, Danny Fischer is a great drummer I have worked with many times in NYC.  Matt Penman from New Zealand is one of the best bassists there is… awesome…

AL: Bennys trio spans two continents already, have you worked with anybody from our hemisphere? Do you feel that the excursion to the bottom of the globe might result in any reciprocal tours by musicians from down here?

BL: I have worked with Camereon Mc Arthur from Auckland… great bassist as well as  Danny Fischer wonderful drummer,  Marty Holoubek, great bassist as well,   Ron Samsom, wonderful drummer and Roger Manins who is an incredibly gifted saxophonist! Yes, i hope we will start some exchange projects eventually.

AL: The tour is a pretty compressed run through Indonesia, Malaysia, NZ, and Australia. Were the two of you able to find most of the venues yourselves, or were there other partners, particularly in the other languages?

BL: We had help from the Goethe Institut in Indonesia and you end up collecting and exchanging contacts with everyone on the touring circuit… that really helps!

AL: Can either of you think of anything to say about the international language of jazz versus it's distinct local flavour wherever you are?

CL: Yes, I think local and even more so, global flavours are influencing music to the extent we are generally more open to experiencing a variety of styles and flavours within the music

BL: There is a wonderful openness when we do shows these days..the feeling I get on stage is that we can do whatever we want and it seems like people are patient enough to listen and see where each tune takes us …its a pretty good time right now to be playing modern jazz.  

Here is a link to Benny's EPK… – watch him lay down some heavy jazz in the studio.