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Philly Mixtape Music Tea w/ Daniel Bennett

“Jazz, folk & minimalism” & “Refreshingly capricious & trippy!”

Yes, those are just a few of the words and phrases that The Boston Globe and Yahoo Voices use to describe the eclectic, melancholy sounds of the Daniel Bennett Group, a daring music trio who blends sounds of modern jazz, American folk and experimental classical into one tightly-winded music package.

Currently, the critically acclaimed group is gearing up to release their latest musical venture, The Mystery at Clown Castle, and will host a free CD release party for the festive occasion which is set to take place at the Philadelphia City Institute Library this Monday, August 10th. But before they own the spotlight next week, Mr. Bennett took time out of his whirlwind-of-a-schedule to sip some music tea with Philly Mixtape, where the award winning musician spilled on his career highs & lows, the recording process for the new album, and just how this one-of-a-kind music trio brought their talents  together to form the dazzling Daniel Bennett Group.

Spill some music tea with Mr. Daniel below.

PM-First up, spill for everyone how the Daniel Bennett Group came together…

DB-I live in Manhattan, but the Daniel Bennett Group actually formed in Boston in 2004. I had just finished my masters degree in saxophone performance from the New England Conservatory. I was also doubling on flute, clarinet, and oboe quite regularly. I was composing music that blended modern jazz with American Folk music and elements of experimental classical music. I first became interested in music when I was ten years old. My older sister took me to the high school jazz band Christmas concert. I’ll never forget it. I heard the jazz band play a rendition of “The Pink Panther.” I knew at a young age that I wanted to be a full time musician, and it’s hard to imagine I have been leading a band for 10 years. The Daniel Bennett Group has toured extensively and recently shared concert billings with Bill Frisell, Charlie Hunter Trio, Steve Kuhn, Greg Osby Duo, James Carter Organ Trio, Joy Electric, and Billy Martin. In addition to leading the band, I recently toured Italy and Switzerland with world music ensemble, Musaner. I have recently performed with the Portland Symphony, the New Hampshire Music Festival Orchestra, and other symphonic groups. I am very active as a pit orchestra musician in Manhattan. I recently composed and performed the original score for the stage adaptations of “Frankenstein” and “Brave Smiles” at the Hudson Guild Theatre in Manhattan. I recently performed in the off-Broadway show, “Blank! The Musical.” The show was produced by Second City and Upright Citizens Brigade, and was the first fully improvised musical to launch on a national stage. My work in the theater world has strongly influenced my eclectic “storytelling” approach to musical performance. I would say that the Daniel Bennett Group is very “theatrical” in our performance aesthetic and stage presence.

PM-Let’s talk about the new album. What were some the early inspirations for it? Describe the recording process a little as well….

DB-[We]just released our 6th full length album, The Mystery At Clown Castle, on the Manhattan Daylight Media label. The album was produced by MP Kuo at Lofish Studio in Manhattan. I play alto saxophone, flute, piccolo, clarinet, and oboe on the album. I am joined by guitarist Nat Janoff, Eddy Khaimovich on bass, and Matthew Feick on drums. Nat Janoff has performed with artists like Michael Brecker, Matt Garrison, Kenny Burrell and Dave Samuels. He also leads his own band at the 55 Bar in Manhattan every month. Our sound is modern jazz, fused with American folk music, quirky pop melodies, and experimental classical music. The Boston Globe describes the sound as, “a mix of jazz, folk, and minimalism.” I think that’s a pretty accurate description. I am generally influenced by anything that is happening around me. I love the music of The Smiths, The Cure, Ornette Coleman, Paul Desmond, and Steve Reich. The list goes on and on! I am very grateful for the reception that the album has received thus far. The album has been featured in Boston Globe Magazine, NPR, First Coast Living (NBC), Yahoo Voices, Timeout New York, and the Village Voice. We are performing national tours all summer to promote the new album. We just returned from a trip to Florida and a tour of the Midwest.

PM-What makes so The Mystery at Clown Castle so uniquely different from your other sets?

DB-The Mystery at Clown Castle is a bold departure from anything we have done in the past. I threw away all conventional “rules” in the production process and really did this record my way. Surprisingly, this album features electric bass prominently. Eddy Khaimovich plays fretted and fretless electric bass brilliantly on the album. This album also features special guest poet, Britt Melewski. I first read Britt’s poetry in the Philadelphia Review of Books. I was so honored to have Britt contribute two poems on The Mystery at Clown Castle. Our producer, MP Kuo, auto-tuned Britt’s voice to increase the intensity and creepiness of the poem. We also feature pianist Jason Yeager on a few tracks. Jason is a very prolific sideman and bandleader on the Inner Circle record label. I have known Jason for many years. Jason performs frequently with Ran Blake, Greg Osby, and John McNeil. Jason has a sound and feel that is perfect for this music. The Daniel Bennett Group has released six albums in the last ten years: A Nation of Bears, The Legend of Bear Thompson, Peace and Stability Among Bears, Live at the Theatre, Clockhead Goes to Camp, and The Mystery At Clown Castle. Each album is a very honest snapshot of who I am in that moment in time.

PM-You’ve done so much in your career. What has been the high point for you so far? 

DB-Every time I pick up my saxophone is an incredible high for me. I have toured Europe and most of the United States, but it’s really tough to say what my “high point” has been. I am happy performing in front of anyone at any time. I started my musical journey as a curious young kid in Rochester, New York. The curiosity and excitement has never left me. I will say that one of my musical “homes” is Tomi Jazz in midtown Manhattan. The Daniel Bennett Group has performed every month at Tomi Jazz for the last 4 years. We developed a great deal of material for the new album by performing at this wonderful club. Another special place for me is the Liberty Hotel in Boston. The Daniel Bennett Group performed here every single week for five years. We have developed some pretty special relationships with venues throughout the United States. We recently performed to a full house at Marvin Auditorium in Topeka, Kansas. The audience was incredibly receptive to our music. I could probably list a thousand places that I love to play!

PM-How about…a day when the struggle was real? We all certainly have those days sometimes…

DB-My worst moments happen when I am too focused on myself. Every day I wake up and try to think of ten people I can help. This takes the attention off myself and focuses my heart and mind for the day. It’s not always easy. I pray a lot! The music industry requires us to basically “sell ourselves” every single day. There is nothing wrong with our desire to make money. My wife and I are expecting our second child in September. And it’s not cheap to live on the upper east side of Manhattan. So there just needs to be a balance in everything that I do. A wise man once told me, “worship God and serve the people.” That is something I strive towards. It’s a tough challenge, but so rewarding!

PM-So, how does it feel to be launching your new album in Philly? 

DB-I love Philly! I was recently interviewed in the Library Journal. As a result, the Daniel Bennett Group was invited to perform at some pretty amazing library venues. The Philadelphia City Institute Library has a very eclectic concert series that runs all summer. We are honored to be performing at the concert series on Monday, August 10th. We have performed in front of thousands of people at venues like the St. Louis Library, Jacksonville Library, Hartford Library, Topeka Library, Indianapolis Library, and the Cincinnati Library. Public libraries are amazing cultural institutions that bring together people from all walks of life. Many libraries have the funding to attracts artists and musicians from all walks of life. It’s quite amazing. Always great to connect with new people!

(For more on The Philadelphia City Institute Library, go here. You absolutely should.)

PM-Shout out the one album you absolutely can’t live without.

DB-The Queen is Dead by The Smiths.

PM-What’s your all time favorite summer anthem? 

DB-A Summer Song” by Chad and Jeremy. I get chills just thinking about this song! 

PM-Describe your sound in one word…

DB-Bears.

PM-One more sip, what would you say to someone who right this second decided to get into this crazy music business?

DB-Do it! The world needs creative thinkers and performers. I take a very positive approach to my life in the music business. If you have a strong moral compass and superb business and creative instincts, you will do great. Find good friends, travel as much as humanly possible, and practice your instrument every single day. Learn to type fast and always return emails promptly. Wake up early! I haven’t slept past 7am in the last ten years. In general, just be a healthy contributing member of society. I practice my instruments every day. I am currently transcribing Paul Desmond solos. The learning never ends!

For more on the Daniel Bennett group, go right here.

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10 Classic George Benson Singles

If there’s one music artist whose got the baby makin’ grooves down to locked bedroom door perfection, it’s iconic singer/songwriter/jazz guitar extraordinaire, George Benson. For almost six(!) decades, Mr. Benson has put out some of the most influential jazz, disco and love records that will ever bless our headphones. Even at the smooth age of 72, he’s still making that magic music, while at the same time making all of our #TBT dreams come true with his classic grooves that Philly Mixtape has served up for everyone today.

Often referred to as one of the greatest guitarists in jazz history, George Benson is indeed one hell of a extraordinary musician, whose unique musical skills found him crossing easily between straight-ahead jazz, smooth jazz, and contemporary R&B. Blessed with a style that can be comparable to jazz greats Charlie Christian and Wes Montgomery, Mr. Benson’s smooth, seductive sound is also completely his own. Not only does he slay it on lead guitar, but he’s also one of the best rhythm guitarists in the business. However, that’s only a small slice of music life when it comes to Mr. Benson as he also sings in a deep, soulful tenor and in fact, it’s his dynamic voice that has proven more marketable to the music world than his famed guitar playing. 

Starting out in this crazy music business as a singer, Benson began performing in nightclubs at an very early age;forming a rock band at 17 while using a guitar that his stepfather made for him. Exposure to those classic jazz records got him intrigued with the genre, and by 1962, the teenage Benson was playing in Brother Jack McDuff‘s band. After forming his own group in 1965, Benson became another one of talent scout John Hammond’s major discoveries, recording a handful of highly regarded albums of soul-jazz and hard bop for Columbia and turning up on several records by others, including Miles in the Sky, the phenomenal album from the late, great Miles Davis. After he joined Verve in the late-’60s, Benson began working with legendary producer, Creed Taylor, and that’s where Mr. Benson’s mainstream radio magic began…

At first, Benson quickly became a guitar star in the jazz world, with the mainstream music market not catching on until he began to emphasize vocals after signing and linking up with Warner Bros. Records. His first album for the label, Breezin‘, became a Top Ten hit on the strength of its only vocal track, “This Masquerade,” and this would lead to a string of hit albums in an R&B-flavored pop mode, culminating with the disco-kissed Quincy Jones-produced classic, “Give Me the Night,” as well as the iconic, “On Broadway.” 

Through the oh, so elusive decade of the ’80s, while Benson was enjoying the many fruits of his singing success, his guitar playing took a back seat in order to sell more records. It was only later in the decade that Benson switched back into his guitar game;recording a critically acclaimed album of jazz standards. He also kept making dynamic records throughout the ’90s, with most critics noting that his more pop-oriented guitar work had noticeably improved in later years. Even more recently, Mr. Benson put out a buffet of albums in the ’00s, most notably for 2006’s Givin’ It Up, which earned the music mastermind a Grammy Award nomination. 

Two years ago, Benson released Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole, an album that he masterfully recorded at the age of 70. Regarded as one of Benson’s finest music moments, (check it out right here), the album only further proved that one, they certainly don’t make them like this anymore, and two, there’s no denying that the incredibly gifted George Benson has a unique, one-of-a-kind talent will last through the ages…and then some.

Go on, Mr. Benson…