Pianist and Composer Ben Winkelman Announces the Release of Sixth Album Heartbeat, out September 15 (OA2)


Pianist Ben Winkelman’s sixth album as a leader, Heartbeat, features jazz heavyweights Gilad Hekselman, Matt Penman and Obed Calvaire, and comprises nine originals, four played by piano trio, five by quartet with guitar. Written mostly in the early days of the Covid pandemic while awaiting the birth of his first child, the album draws inspiration from the anticipation of becoming a father, and the feeling of crisis and isolation at the start of the pandemic in New York. Containing playful, intricate compositions as well as simple, lyrical ones, the album spans a range of moods and stylistic influences, with an emphasis on strong melodic lines, rhythmic exploration and group interplay. Having focused on the piano trio on his previous albums, this one marks a change with the addition of guitar on five tracks. Heartbeat will be released on OA2 Records on September 15, 2023

“I wrote most of these tunes in the first months of the Covid pandemic, that strange and anxious time when New York felt like the epicenter of the apocalypse and we were mostly confined to home, uncertain of the future, unsure even what we should be doing with our time,” Ben reflects. “For me it was also a hopeful and optimistic time as we waited for the arrival of our first child. This set of pieces takes inspiration from the anticipation of fatherhood and the feeling of crisis and isolation at the start of the pandemic.”

Notably, Winkelman altered his writing process during this period. “Whereas I usually compose at the piano with pencil and manuscript paper at hand, I instead made demo versions on the computer, which led me to try different sounds. Some pieces took a different direction because of the sound palette I was playing with, and I thought that some of them would come to life more with the addition of guitar, while others would work well as trio tunes. I’ve focused on the piano trio on my previous recordings, and while I still love this format, I felt it would be interesting to try mixing it up,” he explains. 

The quartet tunes bookend Heartbeat, with three at the beginning, two at the end, and the four trio tunes grouped in the middle.

The album opens with “Praise”, a lively piece that combines Winkelman’s interests in odd meters and contemporary gospel music. The melody in the first part of the tune functions as a long introduction, and plays with a variety of beat groupings in 9/4 time. The main melody comes in after the piano and guitar solos, and functions as a shout chorus. The tune finishes with a virtuosic drum solo over a vamp, its rising key changes giving it the flavor of a rousing church praise anthem.

“Fort Tilden” is a languid piece influenced by Brazilian music. It opens with an ostinato on Rhodes, while the guitar and bass play the melody in unison. When writing it Winkelman imagined a lilting lyrical melody floating over a samba percussion ensemble. Named after a beach in south Queens, it evokes the beach’s strangely isolated feeling, with its abandoned bunkers and open spaces. 

“Chilches” is a happy medium up tempo swing tune that features solos from all four musicians. It’s named after a small seaside town outside Malaga, Spain.

Opening the trio section of the album is “Wandering”, a beautiful, contemplative ballad that visits a number of key centers. The next track, “Isolation”, is a twelve bar piece with a chord progression that feels cyclical. Its openness gives it a free sound, and contrasts nicely with the complexity of some of the other uptempo tunes on the album. Calvaire and Penman trade choruses before the closing melody.

The Wonky Waltz” is not actually a waltz, but the title is apt as it has some flavor of classical piano music, as well as early jazz. This tune revisits an interest in ragtime and stride piano that Ben has sometimes drawn inspiration from. It also revisits another of Ben’s ongoing interests – arranging for piano trio as if it’s a small orchestra. The piece plays with an aural illusion – it’s in 5/4 but parts of it sound like 2/4 because of the two against five grouping. 

The run of trio tunes concludes with “The Plague”, a ballad with a haunting melody reminiscent of a folk tune. 

“Heartbeat”, the title track, opens with an odd meter vamp before the entry of a simple pentatonic melody played by guitar and piano. The coda features a summery melodic motif over a gradual metric modulation, and acts as a feature for the drums. Ben wrote this piece by experimenting with a synth sound over a vamp in Logic Pro on his computer, and while it was still in progress he heard his son’s heartbeat for the first time. 

The album closes with “Machine”, a slower spacious groove tune that opens with a drum intro before the melody gets played by guitar and Rhodes. Gilad plays wonderful guitar effects over the outro. Ben started writing this tune as a synth melody over a drum machine pattern. 


Ben Winkelman is a New York based jazz pianist and composer whose music has been described by Downbeat as “one big, interconnected thing of beauty”. His freewheeling compositions draw on diverse interests, with an emphasis on rhythmic exploration, strong melodic lines and group interplay. With Heartbeat, he has released six albums. 

Ben’s second album, The Spanish Tinge, won the Australian Independent Record Labels Association (AIR) Award for Best Independent Jazz Album; his first album was nominated for an Australian Jazz Bell Award; and his third and fourth albums were nominated for AIR Awards. His work has been supported by grants from the Australia Council and other arts organizations, and he was a finalist in the Australian National Jazz Awards. He has toured in the US, Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

Ben was born in Eugene, Oregon and grew up in Melbourne, Australia, a city with a diverse and vibrant music scene, where he was an active bandleader and in demand freelance musician for many years. With a view to expanding his musical horizons, he moved to New York in 2010, where he now lives with his wife and two small children. 

Not long after moving to New York, Ben answered an ad placed by a Black church on Long Island seeking a pianist. This initiated a journey of discovery as he began learning  to play gospel music on the gig. Many of his musical heroes had a connection with the Black church; growing up in Melbourne he had never imagined he would get such a first hand opportunity to learn about its musical culture.

Ben holds a Master of Music degree from SUNY Purchase College and a Bachelor of Music degree from the Victorian College of the Arts. He studied jazz piano with Kevin Hays, Mickey Tucker and Paul Grabowsky and classical piano with Linda Kouvaras and John Bloomfield.

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

Track List

  1. Praise (5:24)
  2. Fort Tilden (5:52)
  3. Chilches (7:19)
  4. Wandering (5:00)
  5. Isolation (6:20)
  6. The Wonky Waltz (5:57)
  7. The Plague (5:55)
  8. Heartbeat (5:23)
  9. Machine (5:10)

All compositions by Ben Winkelman. 


Ben Winkelman – piano, rhodes 

Gilad Hekselman – guitar (1-3, 8, 9)

Matt Penman – bass

Obed Calvaire – drums

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