Editor's Note: 3-12-20: Citing coronavirus concerns, these performances have been cancelled by the Houston Symphony.
Dave Bennett's bio starts off with the quote, "He doesn't fit the mold." It's the perfect way to succinctly sum up the multi-instrumental phenomenon. His principal instrument is the clarinet, but he also plays electric guitar, piano and drums. And if that wasn't enough, he sings. Forget the days of the triple threat. Bennett is the modern equivalent of the one-man-band who has mastered five (and counting) talents.
Packing all that ability into one weekend of performances is no easy task, but Bennett is the one for the job. Thanks to a booking with Houston Symphony, music lovers will have the chance to experience the Swiss Army Knife of smooth grooves when he comes to Jones Hall March 20 - 22.
"It's mainly songs that people would recognize from the past. It's a century worth of music put into one show. There's a lot to take away from it," Bennett said.
Bennett's show will be a musical tribute to the style and evolution of the tunes we've become so familiar with over the years. It encompasses everything from Benny Goodman to Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. It will showcase the swinging syncopation of Ragtime - once thought to be "too wild" for audiences - to the swinging pelvis of Elvis - which caused mass hysteria in his heyday.
Music historically has provided a litmus test - a marker of sorts - to reflect the moods, temperament and ideas behind popular thought. Some of it is great (Led Zeppelin) and some of it more forgettable ("The Macarena"). But, the good music is the stuff that lasts forever, and that's what Bennett will touch upon. Going from Swing to Rock-and-Roll to Gospel, Ragtime and Country is a winning combination to highlight the story of American music and see the popular thinking of each decade translated through the medium of sound.
"I’d have to say the people who were ground breakers each generation were playing something very honest to their experiences. Perhaps the reason these styles became as prominent as we they were is because it was so sincere, and it related to each generation and what they were going through," he said. "The neat thing is when you present all of those different genres in the same show, we’re playing for audiences who can connect with each type of music. There’s not really a generational clash. Each audience seems willing and receptive to hear those styles presented in a single show."
The show will serve as a trip down Memory Lane, but it will also herald a chance for Bennett to play music from his contemporary album Blood Moon. Even though he is known for playing pieces from earlier time periods, he assumed the Herculean role of producing his own music. It's a daunting job in its own right, and for right reason.
"Playing older standards is easy," he said, but introducing new music calls for nerves of steel.
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"It was very scary at first. When you play those older songs, you know they’re good songs. When you create something that’s your own, you don’t know if people will accept it. You just have to have faith," he said. But at the end, he says "I am who I am, and we tried something on our own. Once I saw people loved [Blood Moon], it was a freeing feeling and a huge confidence builder. Now that I’ve seen it does work, I have confidence to keep writing new music."
Of course, there's no better confidence builder than having the backing of the Houston Symphony while he presents his set list. The orchestral sound fits hand-in-hand with the type of music he'll be playing, which Bennett was quick to note.
"It was no problem fitting this style with the Swing era music and the Gospel music, because that already lent itself to a big band sound. When you have a symphony, it's just a bigger ensemble. With Rock-and-Roll, it wasn’t a big difference. Even in the 50s, they still had a studio band backing up the artists. Elvis had strings and horns on the records, so it’s not that far a stretch to present it with a symphony. As a performer, it’s exciting to have that big sound around you. It’s a ball for me."
'Swing to Rock with Dave Bennett'
takes place Friday, March 20 and Saturday, March 21 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, March 22 at 2:30 p.m. at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. For information, call 713-244-7575 or visit houstonsymphony.org. Tickets range $25 to $125.