Ben Wendel – Saxman, Composer, Freak of Nature
Grammy nominated performer, composer and producer Ben Wendel has enjoyed multiple domestic and international tours with such artists as Cuban drumming legend Ignacio Berroa, Thelonious Monk Piano Competition Winner Tigran Hamasyan and even Snoop Dogg. He’s also a founding member of the Grammy nominated group Kneebody.
In addition to playing saxophone and bassoon, Ben also doubles on the piano. As a composer he has received an ASCAP Jazz Composer Award and was a winner in the 2007 International Songwriting Competition. On top of that he received the 2008 Chamber Music America “New Works Grant.”
A seasoned film composer, he co-wrote the score for John Krasinski’s 2009 adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s “Brief Interviews With Hideous Men.” Additionally, 2007 saw Ben working with conductor Kent Nagano in producing a series of concerts for the Festpeil Plus in Munich, Germany.
Along with serving as a former Adjunct Professor of Jazz Studies at USC, Ben is a recording artist on Sunnyside Records with plans for his second release in Fall 2011. He recently had the honor of conducting a re-creation of “Bird With Strings” at Jazz At The Lincoln Center with guests Charles McPherson and Wes “Warm Daddy” Anderson.
If all of that doesn’t pique your interest, then you may just be at the wrong website…
Doron Orenstein: What was it that inspired you to make music your life?
Ben Wendell: Music was just part of growing up. My mom was an opera singer and there were a lot of musicians in my family. I was raised in the Santa Monica school system which was a public system that had really strong music departments. By the time i was in high school, I was playing in wind ensemble, jazz band, orchestra (bassoon), as well as doing outside projects. I never really had that inspirational moment where i decided to be a musician – I just knew it was what I wanted.
DO: What do you find yourself practicing the most these days?
BW: The same things i’m always practicing. learning songs by ear, shedding technique, composing, doing wierd metronome and rhythm exercises, listening to all types of albums suggested by friends.
DO: What have you been listening to lately?
BW: Radiohead (sorry, it’s a cliche but true), Louis Cole, Louis Cole and Genevieve, Complete Piano Works by Scriabin, Getatchew Mekurya (king of ethiopian sax), Taurus, Joanna Newsom.
DO: What would you say is the skill or attribute that’s helped you the most as a musician?
BW: Yikes – hard to answer. I take every gig very seriously. If someone asks me to play their music I go 110% – often I’ll even try and memorize it if I have time . I think that’s helped.
DO: What’s the next musical frontier for Ben?
BW: There are lots of albums coming up. My next album is being mixed at the moment and features Tigran Hamasyan, Gerald Clayton, Ben Street, Nir Felder, Nate Wood, and Adam Benjamin. Kneebody is working on next studio album plus a collaborative album with electronica artist Daedelus. Also working on a duo CD with Dan Tepfer and a possible symphonic work with Taylor Eigsti. In general, I just want to play, work, and grow artistically.
DO: For those new to your music, which recording would you suggest they pick up?
BW: For personal projects, I would suggest my album Simple Song or the trio project I did called Act. For co-lead groups, I would suggest anything by Kneebody. For sideman stuff, I would check out some Tigran Hamasyan albums.
DO: What’s your saxophone equipment setup?
- Tenor: Super Balanced Action, Otto Link Reso Chamber 6* / Rico Jazz Select 3m Filed
- Soprano: Yamaha YSS-62 (old model) / Selmer Super Session G / Vandoren Classic 2 1/2
- Bassoon: Fox 220 / Heckel Bocal 2