During his fifty- year career in the business, Bennie Maupin’s ingenious style of playing on the saxophone and bass clarinet has built him a reputation as being one of the foremost innovators. Back in 1969, the legendary Miles Davis surprised Maupin when he requested that the reedist only play the bass clarinet on Bitches Brew, rather than saxophone. Herbie Hancock also encouraged Maupin’s cutting-edge creative process on the bass clarinet when recording albums for the Mwandishi and Headhunters bands. Bennie Maupin has toured the world with his own bands as well as playing with some the the great legends of jazz.
For some reason, I never have to ask Bennie Maupin, where are you at NAMM. I turn around and there he is! It happened again at NAMM 2017, so I immediately got out my phone and interviewed my friend of forty years.
The Hollywood 360: Talk about your affiliations at NAMM.
Bennie Maupin: One company I work with is called Legere Reeds which makes accessories for saxophones and clarinets. They have a host of different things that keep instruments in good playing condition. I’ve known them for the last twenty years. We used to do the trade shows in Frankfurt, Germany and this show. I’ve made friends. They give me stuff to try. I try it and send them feedback.
The Hollywood 360: So what products are you trying out?
Bennie Maupin: Right here is a neck strap. It is designed so it will never get tangled up. If you want to adjust it, it is easy pulling. For the smaller instruments, I have to adjust it down to make it shorter. This is a pretty good design. It is something I’ve never seen before. They are always modifying and finding ways to make it easier for you.
The Hollywood 360: Could you use that with your bass clarinet?
Bennie Maupin: I should be able to do so. Do you see this? It’s a little bit long so it gives me the ability to get the length that I want. You want to get a good position so your neck and head are up and your throat is open in order to get air. Once you start to experiment with different neck straps and reeds, it’s good to give them a try. The manufacturers want feedback on what they can do to make it better.
The Hollywood 360: Where is the owner from?
Bennie Maupin: He’s from Lyon, France.
The Hollywood 360: Tell me about your concert coming up on February 3rd at the Blue Whale.
Bennie Maupin: I will be there with my quartet and special guest… a woman by the name of Shana Tucker, she sings and plays trumpet. I am presenting a completely different configuration…piano, bass, and drums but different individuals.
The Hollywood 360: Don’t you also teach?
Bennie Maupin: I am on the faculty at Cal Arts. I have a faculty ensemble who are students that are in the Master’s Degree Program and getting their Ph.Ds. What I do is coach them. Each student is responsible for bringing a composition or two and we play them throughout the semester. I give them suggestions on how to prepare the music for public presentation which is not something that is normally done. They write these pieces… they may play them once, then put them away. I am responsible for one concert a semester. I have had some really great students. I never know who they are going to be or the instruments that they play. This past semester I had one young woman from Central Mexico and she plays bass, she sings, she’s a composer, and she is a fine artist. The kids from Cal Arts are a different batch.
The Hollywood 360: They are learning from a Master. You’ve been at this for 50 years or so.
Bennie Maupin: I get to learn from them too. The youthful enthusiasm is key to staying creative as you get older. You need to be around young people so that you can share your experience with them and they can share their creativity and enthusiasm with you. I would have never been able to do the things I have done if it wasn’t for the mentors that I had.
The Hollywood 360: Please name some of your mentors.
Bennie Maupin: Roy Haynes, the great composer Horace Silver, Kenny Dorham a great trumpeter, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins. I’ve played with Freddie Hubbard, I’ve played with Lee Morgan, and Miles Davis. “Bitches Brew” really spearheaded my career. And it still does even though it’s been over 40 plus years. A lot of people are just discovering this music. It’s interesting for me right now because they have access to me. I’m not away somewhere so you can’t call me or find me. It gives me the opportunity to really have an exchange and promote what I am doing.
So I appreciate doing this interview with you. I appreciate your tenacity to make sure that people are able to know what’s going on in the music world. Some of the places get a lot of play because they deal with the artists that are traveling internationally. But here in LA right now, there is a tremendous amount of great talent emerging.
If you want to hear innovative and gorgeous compositions from the legendary multi-reedist musician, Bennie Maupin, please come to the Blue Whale, February 3rd, 2017. Doors open at 8pm.