I am absolutely thrilled to tell you that the Carpal Tunnel symptoms in my right wrist have improved considerably. Enough so to allow me to, with only one pain-relief break, carefully bang out the following thousand words or so about one of jazz’s most talented musicians. 🙂
Don’t forget that April is Jazz Appreciation Month and April 30 is International Jazz Day! Please do what you can to support our favorite music and the many thousands of talented individuals who make it all possible.
If you are a fellow Oregonian, a good place to start might be with the Jazz Society Of Oregon. 🙂
Now, on to the regularly scheduled portion of this article!
Pianist extraordinaire Benny Green was born in New York City on April 4, 1963. At some point the family moved to California and Green grew up in Berkeley. His father, Bert, was a tenor sax player and the younger Green learned to love jazz by joining his father for album-listening sessions in the garage of their home when he was 8 or 9.
According to Gitler & Feather, writing in “The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz,” Green studied classical piano at age 7 and, beginning at age 9, studied privately with Carl Andrews, Dick Whittington and others.
In 1983 Green moved back to New York, and during the following years he played with a wide array of jazz luminaries, including Ray Brown, Betty Carter, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Joe Henderson, and Freddie Hubbard, among others.
In 1993, Oscar Peterson selected Green to be the recipient of the very first City of Toronto’s Glen Gould International Protégé Prize in Music. A few years later (1998, to be exact) the two pianists went into the studio together and recorded “Oscar And Benny,” with a little help from Ray Brown on Bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums.
Just one year earlier, the Benny Green Trio released the live album that I want to tell you about this time around: The classic Blue Note album, “Testifyin’ – Live At The Village Vanguard.”
The personnel were:
Benny Green, piano
Christian McBride, bass
Carl Allen, pian
We are presented with eleven music tracks and a short introduction at the beginning. The music includes five songs Green wrote and one from bassist McBride.
The opener is Green’s “Don’t Be ‘Shamed,” a quiet tune that still manages to generate a certain amount of heat. Green gives this one an almost Brubeckesque treatment, and when he lets McBride and Allen take the reins they propel us forward with a quiet intensity. Alternately mellow and ambitious, this is a song you won’t soon forget.
Here are Benny and the boys performing “Don’t Be ‘Shamed”:
Another Green original is up next, “Humphrey.” This one is a bit livelier right out of the gate than “Don’t Be ‘Shamed,” and the pace never lets up. As the guys go through their routine someone (Green, perhaps?) can occasionally be heard shouting “yeah!”, and at the end it is obvious that the audience agreed with that implied endorsement.
“Bu’s March” follows. In his introduction to the song, Green explains it as being dedicated to Art Blakey, his much venerated mentor. In this case, “Bu” is short for “Buhaina,” which was Blakey’s Islamic name.
You might find it hard to picture a trio pulling off a march, but Green and the guys manage just fine. Of course, “Bu’s March” is not “The Stars And Stripes Forever”, but is rather a jazzified march, but even so once the guys really get into it, a bit over two minutes in, all stops are pulled and the house comes down as Green’s fingers fly in a frenzy.
The wrist is beginning to twinge more than a little, so I’m going to skip ahead in an effort to get this finished while I can. The next song I want to tell you about is the title track, “Testifyin’.”
This one opens comparatively quietly with what appears to be an homage to “The Entertainer” before shifting gears and building intensity. Then, shades of Scott Joplin, “The Entertainer” appears again just before the ending. Altogether it makes for an interesting piece of music and, judging from their reaction, the audience loved it.
This is followed by “Carl’s Blues,” which Green wrote for his then-favorite (well, second-favorite, after Blakey) drummer. The song gets off to a rolling start with everyone chipping in nicely. The problem with a lot of songs written by or for or about drummers is, sooner or later you run are probably going to come upon the dreaded drum solo.
I have nothing against drummers or drum solos per se, except that what makes for a mind-bending, electrifying experience during a live show all too often magically becomes transformed into a tedious, even irritating experience on a recording.
In “Carl’s Blues” the drum solo is mercifully held off for almost four minutes and, when it does arrive, honesty compels me to tell you it puts the lie to everything I just said about drum solos. The exception that makes the rule, if you will.
The last song I’m going to mention is “Down By The Riverside.” Despite the attempted hijacking by religionists of this granddaddy of all anti-war songs, I have always liked the song itself. Benny and the guys give it a knockout instrumental rendition here and I have to say this is one of my top two versions of this song.
(The other is Reggie Houston’s take, on his album “The Gazebo Sessions,” which I wrote about in 2011.)
Here is Benny from an unnamed album performing “Down By The Riverside”:
Needless to say, I am absolutely certain that you will find “Testifyin’ – Live At The Village Vanguard” by the Benny Green Trio to be an exhilarating addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!
You can learn more about Benny Green and his music by going to his personal web site, or by checking out this article that Victor Verney published on the allaboutjazz.com web site in 2006. On Twitter, he can be found as @bennygreenmusic.
You may also enjoy listening to this interview with Green that Jonah Johnathan recorded at the in Litchfield Jazz Festival 2012:
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