By Ron Schepper, Textura
FIVE QUESTIONS WITH LAKECIA BENJAMIN
As career-defining moments go, it would be difficult to imagine one surpassing Pursuance: The Coltranes, Lakecia Benjamin’s masterful tribute to Alice and John Coltrane. Co-produced by Reggie Workman, the recording augments the leader on alto saxophone with a stunning, cross-generational array of musicians, from Workman and Ron Carter to tens of others, among them Greg Osby, Gary Bartz, Regina Carter, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Meshell Ndegeocello, Steve Wilson, Marcus Strickland, Brandee Younger, and more. The mere logistical challenge of convening such huge forces for a single-album project is incredible in its own right but even better is the recording itself (reviewed here). Rather than being a too-respectful and overly reverential homage, Pursuance: The Coltranesroars with energy and passion, the results suggesting the musicians were thrilled to dig into the legends’ respective catalogues alongside their NYC-based leader. textura had a chance to speak with Benjamin recently about the project, the impact of the Coltranes on her life, and other matters.
1. How do you see yourself and the music you’re creating?
I don’t tend to think of music like a ‘saxophone player,’ ‘pianist,’ or ‘composer.’ I think of myself as an artist who’s constantly trying to learn, grow, and get to that next level. For me that means getting my musicianship and technical skills to such a high level that hopefully one day I won’t have any man-made problems holding me back. I want to be able to play whatever I feel and hear, to convey a feeling and message to the audience. I want to be able to touch peoples’ hearts musically so that when they come to my shows they leave feeling like they had an experience and hopefully come away inspired.
2. Pursuance: The Coltranes is so epic in scope, subject matter, and personnel, I’m guessing its creation must have had a transformative effect on you. If that’s true, in what ways specifically did the project change you as an artist, saxophonist, and thinker?
I think the project taught me to dream and continue to believe anything is possible. When I started the idea for this project, never did I think all of my dream guests would agree to participate. I learned about the importance of following through and the hard work it takes at every level and stage to get something done, from dealing with the challenges of the music to organizing the logistics of the project. Overall, no matter what you do in life, make sure you love it and are willing to see it through.
3. What you’ve accomplished on Pursuance: The Coltranes is remarkable on so many levels, from assembling three generations of musical artists as contributors to bringing equal attention to Alice’s music as John’s. What for you has been the most satisfying and rewarding aspect of the project?
The most rewarding thing for me was during the recording process watching all the guests in one room, to see them smiling and happy and reminiscing about all the history they’ve shared over the years. They’re all friends and have become sort of like family through the music. Most of the time they never get to see each other or haven’t played together in years, maybe decades.
4. Obviously the Coltranes are major inspirations to you, as they are to legions of musicians, jazz and otherwise. What’s one specific way John inspired you and one particular way Alice inspired you?
My favourite John Coltrane quote: “Considering the great heritage in music that we have—the work of the giants of the past, the present, and the promise of those who are to come—I feel that we have every reason to face the future optimistically.”
Alice and John were the ying and yang of each other, devoting every hour to getting closer to God and deeper into the music for the sole purpose of changing peoples’ lives and touching listeners’ souls.
5. Could you say a few words about how it felt to do this project with Reggie Workman as its co-producer, given his contributions as a bassist to many of Alice’s and John’s recordings? And what was the experience like of playing with other saxophonists, among them Gary Bartz and Greg Osby?
There’s nothing to say but the obvious: it was amazing. I have researched and loved the work of all three of these gentleman since I was a teenager. I even used to be a student of Gary’s. It was an honour and a privilege to share the same musical space with others who have been in the presence of greatness.
web site: LAKECIA BENJAMIN
March 2020 Read the full interview here.