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Bennie Wallace -
Artist info
Bennie Wallace

Bennie Wallace

Bennie Wallace

Bennie Wallace began playing jazz in 1959 in a school band under the direction of jazz drummer Chet Hedgecoth. Hedgecoth took the students to hear good jazz bands in the area and once even drove them a hundred miles to hear the Count Basie band. Through Chet, Wallace also discovered the Amvets club, a local black after-hours jazz venue. It was there that he had his first opportunity to sit in and play in a real jazz club. In the summer of 1965, the owner of the Amvets, Seth Crenshaw, gave Wallace his first regular job as a band leader. Read more on
Bennie Wallace began playing jazz in 1959 in a school band under the direction of jazz drummer Chet Hedgecoth. Hedgecoth took the students to hear good jazz bands in the area and once even drove them a hundred miles to hear the Count Basie band. Through Chet, Wallace also discovered the Amvets club, a local black after-hours jazz venue. It was there that he had his first opportunity to sit in and play in a real jazz club.

In the summer of 1965, the owner of the Amvets, Seth Crenshaw, gave Wallace his first regular job as a band leader. Before he left the South, Wallace had played in most of the after hours clubs in East Tennessee. During this time, Wallace was studying the recordings of such jazz favorites as John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Stanley Turrentine, and Lockjaw Davis, as well as rhythm-&- blues saxophonists like Red Prysock. Later, while receiving his formal music education at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, he discovered Charlie Parker and the followers of Lester Young. All along, he was working or sitting in with area bands in many and varied settings. In the early 1970s, after graduating from the University of Tennessee as a clarinet major, Wallace arrived in New York.

His early years in the city were marked by diverse experience that included playing in the groups of pianist Monty Alexander and singer Sheila Jordan. In 1977, Wallace formed a trio with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Eddie Moore and recorded his first album, The Fourteen Bar Blues for ENJA Records. It won a number of honors, including Germany's equivalent of a jazz Grammy, a High Fidelity critics' award for Best Jazz Album of the year, and selection as Billboard's top jazz album. It also led to a relationship with ENJA that saw the release of six more critically acclaimed recordings under Wallace's own name and the beginning of numerous concert and festival appearances in Europe and Japan.

Although during most of this period the trio's live performances featured Gomez and Dannie Richmond, Wallace was also recording as a leader with a wide array of other artists, including David Holland, Elvin Jones, Tommy Flanagan, and Chick Corea. As acclaim for his music grew, Wallace became a five-time winner of Downbeat magazine's Talent Deserving Wider Recognition Award. In the 1980s, Wallace signed with the rejuvenated Blue Note Records, for whom he recorded two well-received albums, Twilight Time and Bordertown, both of which drew heavily upon the musical culture of his native South. The two Blue Note recordings involved musicians like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Dr.

John, who represented an expanded range of musical backgrounds. At the same time, Wallace's two Denon releases of that period, Brilliant Corners ( with Japanese pianist Yosuke Yamashita) and The Art Of The Saxophone, provided evidence of a continuing commitment to his own unique version of mainstream modern jazz. After hearing Twilight Time, Hollywood director Ron Shelton invited Wallace to provide music for his film Bull Durham. That involvement led to Wallace's scoring of the Paul Newman film Blaze, and following that, White Men Can't Jump, for which he composed the score and the song "If I Lose," performed in the movie by Aretha Franklin. The animated short Redux Riding Hood and the short, Little Surprises with Rod Steiger and Julie Harris, and directed by Jeff Goldblum, also featured his music and were nominated for Oscars. In addition to composing, Wallace continued to record as a leader and as a guest artist, performing throughout the world.

His 1993 album The Old Songs (AudioQuest) is dedicated to his inspiring encounter with legendary pianist Jimmy Rowles. "I went in a new direction," Wallace says. "All I did for six months was to practice the melody and sing the songs and learn the lyrics." As Jimmy Rowles commented on hearing The Old Songs, "Bennie's claws are leaving high slashes on the Big Tree with this one." The Talk Of The Town, released in November of 1993, marked the renewal of Wallace's relationship with ENJA. In addition, a recording of Wallace's big-band compositions, commissioned by the Hamburg Radio Orchestra and the Berlin Jazz Festival, was released by the Finnish National Jazz Orchestra on a Scandinavian label. Wallace returned from California in 1997 and recorded his second album for AudioQuest, entitled simply Bennie Wallace and featuring Tommy Flanagan, Eddie Gomez, and Alvin Queen (1998).

In the summer of the same year, Wallace completed an all-Gershwin album, Someone To Watch Over Me, with Mulgrew Miller, Peter Washington, and Yoron Israel. The latter recording was designated Rondo magazine’s Jazz Album of the Month for February 1999, received Swing Journal’s Golden Disc Award, and was listed among Jazz Times magazine’s Critic’s Picks of 1998. In 1999 Wallace recorded a live album at the Berlin Jazz Festival with George Cables, Peter Washington, and Herlin Riley, which was released by ENJA in 2002 as Bennie Wallace in Berlin. During that year he also composed a string quartet score for Oscar-nominated filmmaker Steve Moore’s animated film, The Indescribable Nth, and began composing jazz film scores for the Showtime dramatic series The Hoop Life, which he recorded with some of New York’s leading jazz musicians. Wallace recorded Moodsville for GrooveNote Records in 2001. Released the next year, the album, with Mulgrew Miller, Peter Washington, and Lewis Nash, was a Jazz Times Critics’ Pick for 2002.

Also during 2002, the string quartet Ethel performed the film score from The Indescribable Nth as well as "Big Jim Does the Tango for You," the title song from one of Wallace’s earlier trio albums. In 2003, Wallace released The Nearness of You on ENJA, with pianist Kenny Baron and bassist Eddie Gomez which received the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik. The following year, he composed and recorded the theme for Richard Dreyfus’s PBS drama Copshop, which he performed with Barron, Gomez, vibraphonist Steve Nelson, and drummer Willie Jones. Also in 2004, Wallace completed his Coleman Hawkins Centennial Project, in which he and Anthony Wilson arranged Coleman Hawkins’ music and performed it with a nine-piece band at the Chicago and Berlin Jazz Festivals as well as at a one-week engagement in New York City. The success of the project led to a Wallace recording released on ENJA in 2007 entitled Disorder At The Border. This album, recorded at the Berlin JazzFest, presents compositions written by or associated with Hawkins, who is considered the father of the jazz saxophone and the first major soloist on this instrument, setting technical and formal standards for decades to come. His hard, muscular, earthy sound echoes vividly in Wallace’s playing.

This program was also presented on Hawkins’s 100th birthday on November 21, 2004 at the Jazz Standard in New York. The years 2005 and 2006 found Wallace touring Europe and performing at a variety of venues in the United States. During this time, he also appeared as guest artist at the North American Saxophone Alliance Biennial Conference at the University of Iowa, where he presented a master class and performed with the University of Iowa jazz ensemble. Recently, he was named Artistic Director of Seven Bridges Jazz, a Connecticut non-profit organization, supported by private donations, foundation grants, and corporate gifts, dedicated to presenting jazz music with the integrity of European classical music, and to bringing the music to audiences (including younger audiences) that would not otherwise have the opportunity to hear it. An improbable combination of the old masters’ deep, impetuous sound on one hand and a nearly avantgarde approach to phrasing and intervals on the other, Wallace has been hailed by the New York Arts Journal as "the most important reed player since Dolphy’s and Coleman’s startling work in the early sixties." In January 1999, Downbeat Magazine described Wallace as "a modernist who understands the past." Wallace possesses an uncommon knowledge of the music of his predecessors- Not just Dolphy, Coltrane, and Coleman, but their mentors as well; Wallace has spent a great deal of time studying such earlier saxophone masters as Hawkins, Johnny Hodges, Ben Webster, and Don Byas.

Assimilating much of the history of his instrument, he has remolded it into a unique personal style that defies easy categorization. It is a style that, while reflecting its heritage, is yet fresh sounding and contemporary. Wallace's tone is full and resonant, whether articulating a post-bop expressionism or a quiet romanticism. His prodigious technique is indispensable to an approach that at fast tempos explores the extremes of the instrument with virtuosic arpeggios, scales, and melodic fragments, but on ballads transforms into a warm, often delicate, lyricism.

A robust soulfulness is yet a third aspect of the Wallace conception. Wallace's music is mostly tonal and harmonically oriented, and he favors improvising in relation to the melody of a piece rather than simply on its chord structure. "When I learn a tune, I learn the melody in all keys, and I'll spend more time doing that than on anything else," Wallace says. Bennie Wallace the composer complements Wallace the performer. While Wallace's written music reflects many of the myriad streams of twentieth-century composition - including the French Impressionists and American classical composers, as well as Ellington and Strayhorn and such songwriters as Gershwin, Porter, and Kern - it, like his playing, is also informed by improvising jazz musicians, from Armstrong to the present.

"The composition becomes a part of the playing, with my compositions quite often coming from my playing," Wallace says. Indeed, Wallace considers film composing to be a contributing factor to his continuing growth as a jazz musician. "The two activities feed off of each other. In researching music and learning the techniques of film writing, I've learned things that have changed my jazz playing.

And, of course, the things I do as a jazz musician are at the core of what I'm about as a film composer." Read more on User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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