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Apr 02, 2013 - Mike Bennett Joins NSU Jazz Ensemble Sunday at Jazz Depot

As director of jazz studies at Tahlequah's Northeastern State University as well as a noted professional jazz saxophonist, Dr. Tommy Poole has been able to bring in guest artists from all over the country to perform with and instruct the students in his NSU Jazz Ensemble. With trumpeter Mike Bennett, however, he gets something the out-of-towners can't give.

"All these guest-artist concerts we have are wonderful," says Poole, "but a lot of our artists come from New York, L.A., out of the region. Mike is here. He's just down the street. So he cannot only talk to our students about the tools a commercial musician needs to be successful; he can also offer them a perspective on gigging locally.

"Mike's a great player. He plays with such command of the instrument, and with such clarity in his musical ideas. I think he's a great example for our students, who can see in him the level of musicianship they're aspiring to."

Bennett, in fact, has for decades been one of the most in-demand players in the area. For many years, the Kansas City native played weekly dances with the Sammy Pagna Orchestra, later co-leading that group with vocalist Sharon Moguin. Currently, his regular jobs include work with the Starlight Band, a concert orchestra; the Dixieland-oriented Jambalaya Jass Band; and the Tulsa Playboys, a western-swing outfit. It's a resume that calls for versatility, which is a quality Bennett believe is important for any musician to cultivate.

"My band teacher in junior high and high school in Kansas City, Bill Trumbauer - who was [noted jazz saxophonist] Frankie's son—told me, `If you're going to play trumpet, whether you lean toward legit orchestral stuff or jazz, but especially if you're going to be a jazz/commercial player, be a chameleon. Learn as many styles as you can, and within each style, learn as many standards as you can, because, from a monetary standpoint, you'll work more.'"

Bennett and the 17-piece NSU Jazz Ensemble will be doing plenty of jazz and classic-pop standards on Sunday, according to Poole. After the group opens with Maria Schneider's "Evanescence," Bennett is slated to join the group for the remainder of a show featuring crowd-pleasers like "Satin Doll," "I Can't Get Started," and "All of Me."

"We're also going to do a couple of Thad Jones compositions: `Fingers,' which is based on the chord changes of `I've Got Rhythm,' and `Big Dipper,'" Poole says. "And we're going to close with Bill Holman's arrangement of `Malaguena,' a famous Stan Kenton arrangement."

Arrangements are important to Bennett. Even when he's performing a well-known tune, he takes into account the particular arrangement the band is playing.

"From an improvisational standpoint, you're taught the ultimate compliment is not to sound like somebody else, but to have your own voice," says Bennett. "When I'm playing something like `Satin Doll,' if it's the original Ellington arrangement, I'm going to be Mike Bennett in my sound. But the approach I'm going to take is to be thinking about different trumpet players who played with Ellington, and let that influence the licks I play and the style I play. If it's a Thad Jones chart, it's more modern harmonically and the phrasing is different, so in my mind I'm listening to Thad Jones' big band as I'm playing, and that's affecting my approach to a solo.

"That's how I was taught. But the other thing is listening. How do you know the difference between a Sammy Nestico approach and a Count Basie approach, compared to Ellington, compared to Thad Jones? That's what I stress to young people: You've got to listen as much as you can. How can you approach these different styles if you don't know the difference between them? You can still sit down and listen to albums, and learn the repertoire, and sit down and jam with the music and play over the chord changes."

The day after the Jazz Depot concert, Bennett and the band head to Tahlequah to play a 7:00 p.m. show at the NSU Jazz Lab.

First, however, Mike Bennett and the NSU Jazz Ensemble are set to begin at 5:00 p.m. Sunday, April 7th, at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa's Jazz Depot, 111 E. First Street. Tickets can be purchased at the depot or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5. Refreshments will be available for purchase.

The performance is a part of the Jazz Hall's Spring Concert Series.

The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.


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