Monday, October 21, 2013


Dave Bennett doesn't fit the mold.

For starters, you don't find many jazz clarinet players who name Alice Cooper, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Chris Isaak among their influences. You won't find many musicians under 30 who are equally conversant with the music of Benny Goodman (the "King of Swing") and Roy Orbison ("The Soul of Rock and Roll"). In fact, you may not find even one other clarinet virtuoso who occasionally breaks from his Swing Era repertoire to sing rock-a-billy hits while accompanying himself at the piano - where he plays a mean barrelhouse boogie-woogie.

In the early days of jazz, the clarinet joined with trumpet and trombone to create the music's signature sound, and it ruled the roost in the Swing Era, when jazz was America's popular music and dance-party soundtrack. If anyone can return the clarinet to its heyday, it's Dave Bennett, who fuses serious jazz improvisation with a host of modern pop influences.

On his Mack Avenue Records debut Don't Be That Way, he shows that his skills and interests make him perfectly suited for the job. He stays within the mainstream repertoire, and even covers several of the most famous hit records of the 1930s (by Goodman and such contemporaneous clarinetists as Woody Herman and Artie Shaw). But Bennett updates these songs with up-to-date twists and surprising new arrangements. The result is an album that blazes his own path while still acknowledging his predecessors, and spotlights the jazz clarinet for a new generation. Bennett hastens to share credit for the reconceptualization of this music with the album's arranger, Shelly Berger, whom he met through Tad Weed, the pianist in his group.

Even though he was growing up in a time far removed from the Swing Era and the technology (AM radio, 78 RPM records) that produced it, Bennett already had an appreciation for the era's music from the soundtracks of the old Abbott & Costello movies he watched at home. "And then about a month later, Grandpa bought me a cassette tape of Benny Goodman - and that's what did it. I completely flipped out: it hit me square between the eyes, and I knew at that moment that this is what I wanted to do with my life." He set out to model his clarinet playing after that of Goodman, as well as that of Pete Fountain, the New Orleans clarinetist who kept the trad-jazz sound vital throughout the 1960s and '70s.

Addressing this juncture of his life and career, Bennett says now, "I was trying to 'break free' [from the restraints of past styles] and couldn't quite get there. But Shelly [Berger] was able to make it very coherent, and in the studio he kept everything moving along." So in one sense, Don't Be That Way is more than the title for a collection of freshly imagined Swing Era classics. It could just as well be Bennett's admonition to himself on his Mack Avenue debut - to step out as a fully independent artist, steeped in but not beholden to the way things were done in the past.

Upcoming Dave Bennett Performances:
October 16 / Oakland Community College / Farmington Hills, MI
October 19 / Peabody's / Birmingham, MI
October 25 & 26 / Spencers Route 46 / Saginaw, MI
November 1 / Carnegie Hall (w/ New York Pops) / New York, NY
November 9 / Peabody's / Birmingham, MI
November 16 / Shield's Pizza / Southfield, MI
November 17 / Glendora House / Chicago Ridge, IL
November 27 - 30 / San Diego Jazz Festival / San Diego, CA
December 6/ NSU Center for the Performing Arts
(Benny Goodman Christmas Tribute) / Tahlequah, OK
December 10 / The Campanile Center for the Arts
(Benny Goodman Tribute) / St. Minocqua, WI
December 13 / Hart Public Schools / Hart, MI

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