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Columns > Randy Ray - Peaches En Randalia

Published: 2006/09/20
by Randy Ray

The Big Bang Way Back in the Duo Day – Part II [or Bonus Benevento]

Peaches En Randalia #7
Sometimes, a writer just needs to turn to the Master with the difficult questions in Life. The Duo number is a classic example of that bit of fortune cookie logic. I spoke with Joe Russo and Marco Benevento for nearly five hours for last months Jambands.com feature“Russo and Benevento Stop, Pause and Play”:http://www.jambands.com/Features/content_2006_08_18.08.phtmland, quite frankly, some of the material would have been too supplementary to an adequate article. After getting some sage counsel from my good doctor friend and wise editor, I decided to include these conversations in my column. Last month, Peaches En Randalia featured my extended talk with Russo; this month features a further conversation with Benevento.
Both additional interviews center on their individual musical beginnings and the seemingly random events, which brought them together as a duoa cornerstone trait of serendipitous jamband music. I hope you enjoy their comments as much as I did as they treated the interview process as a chance to talk amongst friends andas Bob Dylan once saidunload their heads. Thanks also to my site editor, Dean Budnick who indulged my desire to find out what makes these two cats tick.
Finally, to solidify the infamous notion that I read _everything_print, cyberspace or otherwise, the Duo Message Board mentioned my error in last months feature about Marco Beneventos Hammond B-3. I apologize for this mistake. Benevento does, indeed, play the Hammond A-100 as he talks about in this discussion. *RR: Did your family originally turn you onto music? *
MB: Yeah, my mom turned to me in an antique store and asked, If we got a piano, youd play it, right? I said, Yeah, of course, piano. I know what that is and they got an upright piano and they still have it, actually. My mom found a local teacher and I started playing with herI liked it, I liked doing the notes and making the sounds.
My older cousin knew how to play music and he showed me things that I picked up quickly. My uncle played guitar and we would sing songs together as I have a pretty big Italian family. Nobody was a serious musician but everybody loved music. My dad knew a lot about jazz music and loved to sing and he loved traditional Italian music. My uncle liked the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull so after dinner we would play some songs and I said, Oh, rightI can piano; I can play these chords.
I took lessons with Mrs. Cunningham in Wyckoff, New Jersey. The books I learned from werent jazz or classical, they were right in the middle. This started in first grade when I was six and lasted until seventh grade. In seventh grade, my dad got me a synthesizer and I took some lessons about learning how to make sounds. I got a four-track recorder and a drum machine and got into recording. It was all just cheesy stuff but I was learning how to do things. *RR: Do you still have some of those early recordings? *
MB: You know, I was just telling my fiancbout thisIve got to find those recordings of me playing Axel F with the drum machine. *RR: The theme from Beverly Hills Cop? *
MB: Yeah but, dude(laughter) I was just learning stuff by ear after coming home from summer camp. Id learn it on piano and my dad would come sing it with me. My parents would always come up with suggestions like Oh, learn thisit was our wedding song. There was nothing like (authoritative tone): If you dont practice It was nothing like that as I was kind of just drawn to it. My dad also has a wealth of repertoire about songs that are out there and how the genres relate to each other. *RR: Who were some of the jazz musicians that influenced youArt Tatum? *
MB: Yeah. Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans and Miles when I was around 16. Around the time I met Joe [Russo] at age 12, 13, I was heavy into synthesizers so I was into Rush and Led Zeppelin and Joe and I would fuck around with songs like that at choir. We were always like the people in a band, you know? We were great friends. I mean (laughs), we were friends because we both always got into trouble. Wed always be in detention together after school. *RR: I took a gander at your junior high school photos and you look exactly the same but Joe appears to have changed quite a bit. *
MB: Yeah, he stretched out. (laughter) He was definitely a little chubby, fat punk back then. He was way into Neil Peart and Rush. One time, we had a jam at his house but we had a band and wed play Doors songsbecause I liked [Ray Manzareks] organ sound a lotand the Meters. I liked the Meters and how all of their sounds would fit together. It almost sounded like more than four people. I also got a keyboard and I got into writing orchestral-type of stuffthis weird writing and recording of soundtracky-type of stuff. In high school, I had a sixteen-track keyboard that I would record stuff into and I had an analog keyboard that only played six notes at a time called a Poly 6. Of course, I was always playing with people and learning rock songs like Cream, Steppenwolf and the Doors, of course. I was playing all of these Sweet Sixteens for all of the girls. I would also play all of the bass line chords on the Poly 6. *RR: You lost track of Joe in high school, hook up with him ten years later and he said that he had no idea that you had turned into this total monster on keyboards. How did the Berklee College of Music thrust you up to the next level? *
MB: I got into jazz and took some jazz lessons and decided I wanted to go to Berklee and I got in. I should mention that while I was in high school, my parents bought me the organ that I have nowa Hammond A-100. They had found an ad that I had cut out of a newspaperit was actually noted that it was a B-3 for sale.
My parents bought it for me while I was at the National Guitar Summer Workshop in Connecticut. I went to a lot of little music camps; I was kind of a dork in that way. I specifically went to the one in Connecticut because they had a small keyboard department and I wanted to be in a place with like four keyboard players. I went to many camps and learned about different kinds of music like Steely Dan and all of their stuff. Near the end of high school before Berklee, I went to the William Patterson College and took night courses and studied with a great pianistJim McNeelyand Rufus Reeda great bassistfor jazz musicians, improv and harmony chords. When you tell a rocker to play a chord, he plays that chord but with jazz there are so many options to play these sorts of chords. I took recording classes, audio engineering and learned about the synthesizer, sound waves, musical acoustics and film scoring. I actually scored one of my friends movies while in high school on my sixteen-track sequencer called _The Apples of Eden_themes for each character and it was really fun.
I went to Berklee as a Film Scoring major. However, when I was in high school, I was in a music store and I told this guy that I was going to go to Berklee and he said, Youre majoring in Performance, right? I said, No, Im majoring in Film Scoring. He said, Fuckmajor in Performance. I thought Thats kind of weird. Why would you go to music school to major in Performance? Dont you know how to play? Isnt there more to music than performance? I wanted to be an engineer/producer/film scorer.
I wound up realizing that I was better than I thought and I fell in love with performance. When I would go see the ensembles at Berklee, the people werent as bad ass as I thought so I kind of fell in love with the performance side because performing is a tripespecially when youre 19 and performing in front of students and teachers at recitals. *RR: Were you working on original material at the time, too? *
MB: Yeah, I was working on original music. I had a band and wed play at bars on weekends in Bostoncovers and some originals to try to make some money. But in my freshman year, I realized that the hardest major is performance. Youre totally naked on stage, you cant fake anythingpeople know if youre lying. If you know the music, you know it; if you dont, you dont. You cant sit in a studio and fix your mistake. I realized that Im going to study music forever but Im never going to be totally satisfied but Im going to be happy the whole way through. Also around this time, I got into the Fringe, which is totally Zenned-out avant-garde jazz music where anything goes. I read this book by Kenny Warner and met a lot of people who were really cool, nice people like Marc Friedmann and Brad Barr from the Slip and played with them and a lot of other great people. I switched my major to performance and I played in an ensemble and I had a band called the Jazz Farmers and we would play every Thursday night at the Chopping Block. Wed play all of these jazz standards by cats like Joe Henderson, Bill Evans, Lee Morgan and Horace Silver.
The most important part of my Berklee experience was Joanne Brackeen. She was my guru, per se. She took me in and said, Marcoyou could be one of the best, if not the best piano players Berklee has ever had if you just practiced. (laughter) I thought, You know whatI totally dont practice. I never worked on technique or touch or tone on the piano. She said, You should study with me. Now that I think about it, it was a pretty heavy thing. I had a masters class with her where we transcribe a pianist a weekMcCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett, Wynton Kelly, Kenny Kirkland. Wed play a different solo from a different album every week.
She asked me, What have you been studying? I said, Breathing at the piano, just playing whatever I want to play and being at one with the and she said, Alrightyou know what? You know enough about that stuff. Lets have you learn this solo by Chick Corea. It kind of felt like being slapped in the face: Hellooooget out of the clouds. *RR: But I like the clouds. *
MB: Yeah, I like it up here! Thats a very important part about musicunderstanding breath and being true to yourself but another part is being able to play your instrument. You have to practice eight hours a day for many years and then, you can put your head in the clouds and see what happens. There is always a balance of both worlds.
Randy Ray stores his work at www.rmrcompany.blogspot.com.

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