D.During his hiatus in the early 2000s, saxophonist Lakesia Benjamin took matters into his own hands. “People weren’t calling me for gigs, so I would jump on their stage and have them hire me,” she says. Two attempts to crash Prince’s gig in Las Vegas were thwarted, first by an unexpected medley of the singer’s inappropriate acapella numbers and then by bouncers. , invited Benjamin to try out with his band, which she performed for two weeks at the end of his residency. “I had to do something dramatic to get attention,” she says.
Benjamin’s memorable personality runs through her story. She embodies jazz not only in her sound, but also in her demeanor and appearance. “You’re not here to get out of bed and onto the stage like the guy in the front row,” she says of the metallic outfit she wears on the cover of her fourth album, Phoenix. Says, “Your presentation is a representation of your music before it is heard.”
Phoenix is an apt title. It’s Benjamin’s creative rebirth after lockdown. Opening with an American Skin whine, Benjamin fuses her bop vocabulary with funk underpinnings to create an urgent and inventive album, while introducing it on her three previous solo records. It reinforces the theme of community solidarity. Her musical foundation began in Washington Heights, a Dominican neighborhood in Manhattan. Here, Benjamin played her lip-splitting set for the first time with her local Merengue band and lived with her extended family. “It was totally multigenerational,” she says. Each floor had its own sound. Her grandmother played Mahalia Jackson, her great-grandmother played “Granny’s Ragtime”, her mother Biggie Smalls and Wu-Tang Clan. “I go upstairs to her. I feel like BB King,” she recalls.
In high school in the early ’90s, Benjamin designed a much-needed exchange for the school’s saxophone owner and arts-to-band class. He removed an important screw from a fellow student’s instrument, hid it, and offered to pay for the repair if he agreed to replace it. spot. Benjamin’s first taste of jazz was in Duke’s Ellington’s Big His Band. Afterwards, John examined Coltrane’s back his catalog. Avid trumpeter Clark Terry gave Benjamin his first big break in jazz, calling her to play in his band “while I was still transcribing his solos,” Benjamin said. says.
“The hip-hop thing happened wrong,” she said of what happened next. I thought she was being tricked. Instead, he said he needed a player for a session with Missy Elliott the next afternoon. But news of Benjamin fed back to Missy, and she became hip-hop’s go-to horn section leader.
However, Benjamin’s patience with his employer wore off. In 2008, a new opportunity presented itself. After he played two sets at Obama’s inauguration ball, Benjamin was called upon for his third set. The invitation was from Stevie Her Wonder, and he let out a glee when she played her saxophone solo from her 1980 hit “All I Do.” Three months later, he got a call to join him on his three-month tour, which was leaving the next day. “I felt like the whole world opened up,” she says. “And I didn’t have to play with Lil Wayne anymore.”
Since transitioning from session work to a solo career in 2012, Benjamin has become one of New York’s most promising voices, culminating in Pursuance: The Coltranes, a concept album of ambitious arrangements by Alice and John. , was still “soaked in the blues”. , as Jazzwise wrote. The acclaim that accompanied its release seems a far cry from the tragedy that followed.
In September 2021, Benjamin was driving home from a festival in Pittsburgh, singing along to Kenny Garrett. The next thing she remembers is being dragged through the woods by a stranger covered in mud and blood. Benjamin crashed into her car, breaking her jaw, shoulder blade, multiple ribs, and puncturing her eardrum. Those who cut her off from her remains fled without leaving her name when the authorities arrived. After leaving the tour with her jaw broken, her recovery was made even more traumatic by the pandemic. Her 15 members of Benjamin’s family have died from her Covid-19. “Two people are risking their lives right now,” she adds.
Thoughts about death and legacy tell Phoenix. Ballard’s comeback reflects the recent loss of her family. Benjamin’s previous releases highlighted her multi-generational approach to jazz, incorporating esteemed performers such as Ron Carter and new voices such as Brandi Younger. At Phoenix, she added another standard. Patrice Rushen sits alongside Angela Davis and Wayne Shorter. But I don’t know the whole jazz repertoire or playing the piano,” she says. She says, “She tries to make people stand out so she can get flowers in her lifetime.” Once, Benjamin grabbed the stage for her recognition. Now she beckons another bow to others.