Featured Musician - February 2007
Name: Ben Darwish
Early Years/Education: Started piano at age six when my mom bought a piano. She was a jazz fan and always played jazz records around the house...Monk, Coltrane, etc. In middle school I switched to drums and studied with Don Worth and then switched to rock guitar in high school. I then put together a group called Chill Factor.
We played a mix of rock and other styles and won Portland's "Battle of the Bands" at the Roseland.
This happened on my 16th birthday, it was pretty overwhelming! Our prize was twenty hours in a studio to cut an album.
I continued to play the piano and was always interested in jazz but when I graduated from high school and went to Mt. Hood Community College, I started taking it seriously.
Then, meeting Randy Porter really sparked my interest. After Mt. Hood, I transferred to the University of Oregon where I'm currently a senior working towards a music performance degree in jazz studies. My piano professor in Eugene is Toby Koenigsberg, who is a really good teacher.
Ben Darwish Trio: We formed in October of 2005 with Zach Wallmark on bass and Drew Shoals on drums. When Drew is out of town, I'll have Jason Palmer from Eugene on drums. We have one CD out called "Industrial Hero" on the Diatic Records label. Another band I've newly formed is called Jump Off. It's essentially a dance band with a rock-funk groove as well as hip horn arrangements.
This gives me a chance to write totally different music. I play a Fender Rhoades and keyboards and sing; the bassist Zach Wallmark is on electric bass; the drummer is Kevin Congleton (from the University of Oregon by way of North Texas State); the guitarist is Justin Morell (recorded with Peter Erskine); on trumpet is Tim Leopold, on sax is Jesse Cloninger, and on trombone is Derek Bondy.
Musical Influences: Ahmad Jamal, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Fred Hersch, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, John Scofield, Dave Holland, John Hollenbeck, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, OutKast, The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest, Immortal Technique, and Cake.
Most Satisfying Experience: The two CD release parties we just had at the Blue Monk and Jimmy Mak's. They were both sold out and the audience was really intent on listening. Even though the Blue Monk was sold out to capacity, it was really quiet. And there were about 250 people at Jimmy's, all there to listen to the music.
Favorite Recordings: Ahmad Jamal: "Ahmad's Blues," Bill Evans: "Alone," Keith Jarrett:"Standards Vol. 2," Fred Hersch: "Fred Hersch Plays Monk," Charles Mingus:"The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady," Frank Zappa:"Joe's Garage," Herbie Hancock:"Thrust," Dave Douglas: "Strange Liberation," Messiaen: "Quartet for The End of Time," Jimi Hendrix: "Axis: Bold As Love," A Tribe Called Quest: "Midnight Marauders,"and Immortal Technique: "Revolutionary Vol. 2."
Discography: There's the newly released trio recording "Industrial Hero" on Dusty York's label Diatic Records/I'm on a Mt. Hood Community College jazz band release from 2004 on the Seabreeze label; and I'll be on the soon to be released Willamette Singers next project.
Gigs: I play every Thursday at Jo Federico's in Eugene from 6:30pm to 8pm, just before the weekly jam session there; February 3 at the downtown Athletic Club in Eugene from 8pm to 11pm in saxophonist Carl Woideck's group; February 17 at The Blue Monk in Portland (during the Portland Jazz Festival); March 8 at the Old Church in Portland: My trio will share a double bill with the Dusty York Trio starting at 8pm; and March 9, I'll be back with my trio at Jo Federico's in Eugene.
Future Plans: I'd like to travel this summer and then go to graduate school. I really need a masters to do anything with this degree. I'd also like to be taken seriously as a composer. I want to become an accomplished jazz pianist and want to be recognized as a composer of all kinds of music. I've always been into popular music...I'd like to cross the boundaries. I'd love to get into writing movie soundtracks.
Other: A few friends and I are starting a project to help The Blue Monk get a new piano. We hope to get involved with fundraising with this in mind soon.
Also, I think Randy Porter is the most knowledgeable teacher of jazz in the area... he doesn't just tell you what to do but he can devise a way for you to discover more for yourself.
Interviewers note: Ben was the 2003 recipient of the Jazz Society of Oregon's Young Musician Scholarship. Ben can be contacted at www.BenDarwish.com.
-- Interviewed by Rita Rega