Saxophonist Benoit finds voice on piano

Schenectady-based jazz musician Marcus Benoit has put down the sax and now he's focusing on the pian
PHOTOGRAPHER:

About five years ago, musician Marcus Benoit underwent a transformation of sorts.

Benoit had just finished a 10-year tenure as saxophonist with local jazz composer and pianist Cole Broderick, having worked on Broderick’s four “Seasons of Saratoga” albums. One of Benoit’s old high school friends had just died of cancer, and Benoit was reconnecting with his circle of friends from high school at a service in Florida when he had a “moment of epiphany.”

“I wanted to have excitement for playing music again; the bottom [had fallen] out, and it felt like I was going to a second job,” Benoit said during an interview at his home in Schenectady. “Upon my dear friend’s death, it hit me like a ton of bricks how to go about it.”

Upon his return from Florida, Benoit, a professional jazz saxophonist for most of his life, decided to focus more on his piano playing. He also began to write lyrics for the first time, composing songs based on his own experiences.

Getting serious

“I always had my hand in piano; I started taking it seriously after the trip to Florida,” Benoit said. “I felt I had accomplished everything I wanted to on the saxophone. I still play a little, but I don’t take it seriously like I did.

“The two main things were that I began to focus on keyboards, and I finally felt like I had lived enough that I could start writing lyrics about things that other people had experienced as well,” Benoit continued.

“As a songwriter, I have only one rule — only write about what you know about.”

The material Benoit writes now is primarily in the blues and R&B vein, with occasional jazz flourishes. He performs with a number of different musicians in his Marcus Benoit Band; at 9 p.m. on Saturday at 9 Maple Avenue in Saratoga Springs, he’ll perform with saxophonist John Savage, bassist Mike Lawrence and drummer Gary Nowik.

Benoit’s new seven-song CD, “Let’s Get Away,” was completed this month, and will be made available at www.cdbaby.com starting July 1, as well as at his 9 Maple Avenue show. It’s the second set of songs he’s self-released since he began writing lyrics, after 2006’s “Like Whiskey on Ice.”

The songs range from the unadorned, up-tempo title track, an ode to getting away from the working world; to the ballad “Everyday Heroes.” The latter song’s lyrics were inspired by Benoit’s experiences as a music teacher at Philip Livingston Middle School in Albany.

“[The song is] dealing more with my life now, teaching in an urban school and dealing with problems I come up against,” Benoit said. “The lyrics deal with all people in urban districts — grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, social workers — trying to do the right things in the midst of adversity.”

Benoit has been teaching in the Capital Region for most of his adult life, but he isn’t originally from the area. His father was in the Army, and Benoit spent his childhood years traveling, living in Oklahoma, Italy and Germany. He began playing jazz and blues in clubs in Germany while he was in high school during the late 1960s.

w of these R&B and jazz songs; it was fantastic. You could play in clubs that quite frankly a white person wouldn’t be going into.”

Benoit’s influences at the time included John Coltrane, King Curtis and J.B. Walker. Among his favorite pianists are Herbie Hancock, Dr. John and Michel Camillo.

“I’ve always had my foot in the jazz and R&B camps at the same time,” Benoit said.

Seeking roots

After graduating, Benoit did a stint in the Air Force, and eventually settled in Schenectady, where both his parents were originally from. Despite having been in the Capital Region for some time now, he said he sometimes feels that he has no roots.

“I spent my childhood all in Europe, but it’s kind of strange,” Benoit said. “As a kid, it’s a great adventure, but as an adult, you realize you have no roots. You start realizing you’re a fish out of water.”

He hasn’t written any songs about his experiences as an Army brat yet, but it’s a possibility.

“I’ll have to encounter that,” Benoit said. “There’s probably a lot of Army brats out there. I lost contact with a lot of people, way before the ’Net era, and I figured I’d never see these people again. But you realize that these high school events shape what’s going to happen later on.”

Marcus Benoit Band

when: 9 p.m. Saturday

where: 9 Maple Avenue, Saratoga Springs

how much: $2

more info: 583-2582 or www.9mapleavenue.com.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

Leave a Reply