Interview: Vocalist Benn Bacot

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Q: When did you decide to become a singer?

A: My very first memories are of standing in front of the radio, singing and listening to the music. It has always been a part of who I am from the very beginning. I didn't choose it; it chose me!

Q: Was jazz always your primary music of choice?

A: No. I have sung many different types of music over the years from choral music to R&B and musical theater. About 16 years ago a friend gave me a copy of a CD of duets by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. All of the songs were in good keys for me. I started humming along and realized that I enjoyed those songs and began to seek more of the same by listening to other greats like Sara Vaughn, Joe Williams, Johnny Hartman, Billy Eckstine, and many others.

Q: Growing up, what vocalists influenced you the most?

A: My original influence to sing was a man who lead the choir at church, Brother Jack Morgan, who had a voice that would bring the house down. I watched and saw how with his voice he could create joy or sorrow. How he held the whole church in the palm of his hand with a song. I'm a kid of the Motown age so early professional influences was listening to folks like the Supremes, The Four Tops, The Temptations, which had the world's greatest bassist Melvin Franklin, and many others from the era.

Q: What made you decide to choose the covers on your latest record?

A: Over the last two years I have had the privilege to headline once a month at the Savanna Jazz Club in San Francisco. The majority of the songs are from that experience, taking the material that the audiences most enjoyed and fleshing them out with more complete orchestrations and arrangements.

Q: Where were you born, and where did you grow up? Were your parents supportive of your musical career?

A: I was born and grew up in McComb, Mississippi, a city that gave the world Bo Diddley, Britney Spears, and Brandy, to name a few. My mom was a nurse who worked nights 11 to 7 so she didn't get to make many performances but I still to this day am motivated by her words, “Anything you desire is possible if you believe and put your mind to it." my dad was a man's man who loved to fish and hunt. He was a foreman for the city and drove backhoes and bulldozers. Even he believed that I would leave home destined for great things.

Q: Did you receive any formal training to become a singer? How did you learn?

A: I was in church and high school choirs and once on my own realizing that I had the basics but no real technique, I studied at the Blue Bear School Of Music in San Francisco with Bobby McFerrin protege Raz Kennedy taking solo classes.

Q: How you describe the jazz scene in San Francisco?

A: The scene there for jazz is a slowly thriving one. Not many clubs or opportunities but they are there. I've been fortunate to have a regular spot at Savanna Jazz which has been designated a “Top Jazz Venue" in the U.S. by Downbeat magazine. Group shows and special appearances also help to keep things movin'.

Q: Do you perform live often? How would you describe the experience of singing in front of an audience as opposed to being alone in a studio?

A: As many times as I can I hit the stage for live performing takes it to the next level. You have the song which affects the audience whose energy comes across and motivates me to give more. It's a give and take relationship, growing and building with each song. In the studio it's just you and the song; with good material creating the mood and experience to give a good performance can be easy. But you have to be prepared and know your material to be able to emote the feelings of the song.

(Wavelength Radio Promotion would like to dedicate this interview to the memory of Benn Bacot's mother, Mrs. Audrey Elizabeth Bonds. We extend our deepest sympathies to her loving family.)

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