Benny Benack III Launches ‘A Lot Of Livin’ To Do’

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Singer and trumpeter Benny Benack III is one of the few male vocalists of his generation who’s mining the elements of traditional jazz.

(Photo: Rayon Richards)

Almost everything about Benny Benack III, the 29-year-old trumpeter and vocalist, suggests that he arrived from a different era. There’s his name, of course, along with his smooth, polished voice, which brings to mind a number of old-school singers, including Mel Tormé, an uncommon reference point among today’s cohort of young jazz musicians.

As the emcee for Postmodern Jukebox, a music collective that recasts top-40 hits through a swing prism, Benack also channels a long-gone period when jazz functioned as dance music. And on top of all that, he sometimes peppers his performances with vocalese.

But even if he seems like something of a throwback, his music is uniquely modern. Benack’s second leader date, A Lot Of Livin’ To Do, stands out as a distinct statement in the jazz world. For one, there aren’t many musicians at the moment who both play a horn and sing. But what’s more, Benack is one of the few male vocalists younger than 30 who’s mining the elements of traditional jazz.

“There’s really not that many of us,” Benack, who’s based in Harlem, observed during a recent telephone interview.

Benack is no slouch on the trumpet, either—his bright tone recalling Clifford Brown—and on his new album, he sings and plays in about equal measure.

“With this new record, Benny is carving his own way and sound, and influencing a whole new generation of emerging jazz singers,” said drummer/producer Ulysses Owens Jr., who’s contributed to both of the bandleader’s albums

But when he settled in New York, Benack decided not to market himself as a singer; he wanted his peers to take him seriously as a trumpeter. It wasn’t until he began touring with Owens that Benack started singing again. The drummer had heard an audition tape, and encouraged him to sing live.

Benack doesn’t make a distinction between his singing voice and his trumpet, though. “To me, it’s really kind of one voice,” he said. Perhaps that’s why vocalese appeals to him. Benack doesn’t borrow from past solos, working out the lyrics, melody and phrasing on his own. And one of the highlights on A Lot Of Livin’ is the bandleader and Veronica Swift engaging in some adventurous vocalese and scatting on the standard “Social Call.”

As Benack plots his next move, he has his eye on recording an album of duets, à la Tony Bennett, though he imagines that such a project is at least a few years off. “I need to still get my music out there and hit the pavement with a few records before I start wistfully looking back and making duet albums.”

Benack knows his strengths, and wistfully looking back, it seems, is what he was made to do. DB



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