How did being a SFJAZZ High School All-Star affect your playing?
Playing with the SFJAZZ High School All-Stars inspired me to lead a life in music. Growing up in Santa Cruz, I was lucky to be mentored by the Leboeuf Brothers and Hans Bernhard, all older members of the All-Stars who attended my high school. I played tenor saxophone with the All-Stars alongside my friend Jesse Scheinin, who I still play with today in New York City. It was great to play with extremely motivated musicians my age who shared my love for jazz. Playing in both big band and combo settings improved my versatility as a musician - until joining the All-Stars, I had little experience playing in a saxophone section, and almost no experience playing with small ensembles. The big band experience taught me subtleties of playing with a large group of people. We learned to play as a team, and bring our distinct musical personalities together to blend, ebb, and flow through the music. The combo setting allowed me to practice improvising at a professional level, and bring in compositions and arrangements to try with the band. Every musician I met in the All-Stars was devoted to their own music, and still consistently helped their band members become the best they could be. Studying with master musicians Yusef Lateef, Joshua Redman, Albert "Tootie" Heath, and so many more, I learned new techniques on my instrument, heard unforgettable rehearsals and performances, and gained a deep appreciation for the history of jazz.
Tell us about your experiences with All-Star alumni since you graduated High School.
Playing with the All-Stars, I learned a lot, made musical connections, and played some life-changing gigs. Most of all, I met my best friends! Currently my working band features three other All-Star alumni - Sam Reider, Ari Chersky, and Evan Hughes. We recorded my debut album, Battle Mountain, in March 2013 at Tiny Telephone in SF, and it was released this February to rave reviews. I share a deep musical and personal bond with these guys, and I know that I'll never stop hanging and playing music with them. I owe these friendships to my time with the SFJAZZ All-Stars. After I graduated from the Brubeck Institute Fellowship program in 2009, I continued my studies alongside Ari at the New School in New York City. Sam and Evan also lived and studied in NYC at the time. Similar to our experiences with the All-Stars, the New School afforded me opportunities to study with my musical heroes and play in a variety of musical situations with people from all over the world.
You can learn more about Ben's time at the New School by watching this short documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVdWG2AFsdA
And check out the EPK for Ben's new record Battle Mountain, featuring Sam Reider, Evan Hughes, and Ari Chersky: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhoUmV4NIJA