Dr. Tommy Poole, who knows a thing or two about jazz, calls Benny Green "kind of the Doogie Howser of jazz piano."
"He started playing with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers at a very young age," explains Poole. "And when I think about the big swinging jazz piano players, I think of Gene Harris, of Geoffrey Keezer -- who replaced Benny in Art Blakey' band - and Benny Green himself."
Green was 24 years old when he joined the Jazz Messengers. By that time, as Poole implies, the young pianist could already bring a wealth of experience to the job. A New York native, he'd grown up in Berkeley, California, starting classical piano studies at a seven-year-old. But, thanks in great part to the influence of his saxophone-playing father, he became interested in jazz, and by the time he was in his teens he was playing piano with groups around the Bay Area.
Then, a year after his high school graduation, he moved back to New York, where he became acquainted with the veteran jazz pianist Walter Bishop Jr. As Green notes on his website, bennygreenmusic.com, "I began studying with him and he helped point me in the direction of developing my own sound, and he also encouraged me to check out and study the whole scope of jazz piano history, so I could get a sense of how I was to fit in."
Working with such acts as Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Freddie Hubbard, Ray Brown, and Diana Krall, as well as leading his own bands, Green developed a reputation of one of the leading lights in the jazz style known as hard bop - which could be defined, in part, as a more blues influenced form of bebop. As Poole explains it, "Hard bop is the style of jazz that came, chronologically, after bebop, specifically in the 50's and 60's. What hard bop did was get back to some of the blues origins of jazz music.
"What bebop musicians like Charlie Parker did was take jazz music and make it a lot denser - a lot more chords, a lot more notes," he adds. "They all came out of the big dance bands, but they'd get together and jam away from those bands, so they could play more complex, denser music with faster tempos. It was more intellectual music, and dancers couldn't dance to it.
"Then came the hard-bop movement, which I believe brought a lot of the audience back to jazz. It was bluesier, and, traditionally, the drums were louder. Arguably, the two most popular hard-bop acts were Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers and Horace Silver."
Sunday's Jazz Depot audience will get a chance to hear what hard bop is all about firsthand, as Green joins the 19 members of the Northeastern State University Jazz Ensemble in a concert featuring a repertoire built to showcase the pianist's style.
"I have never performed with Benny Green, but I knew I wanted him to get him for our jazz series," Poole says. "We worked out our scheduling and picked out music we think he'd have a lot of fun playing - like `Whisper Not,' written by Benny Golson, saxophonist for Art Blakey's group. We chose all these songs with Benny Green in mind."
In addition to his work as director of jazz studies and assistant professor of music at NSU, Poole is a noted jazzman himself, whose credits as a saxophonist include work with the Woody Herman Orchestra, Maynard Ferguson, and Diane Schuur, among many others. However, this time around, he believes he'll leave his horn in its case.
"I'll be pretty busy moving microphones around, doing a lot of that kind of stuff," he says. "But they don't need me. It's going to be a great big-band show with a lot of talented young musicians.
"The NSU Jazz Ensemble is fresh off its sixth CD release, which is calledOn Cue,"he adds. "It'll be available at the show."
Benny Green and the NSU Jazz Ensemble are set to begin Sunday, Nov. 4 at 5 p.m. at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa's Jazz Depot, 111 E. First St. 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.
The show is a part of the Jazz Hall's 2012 Autumn 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.