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Lakecia Benjamin

Lakecia Benjamin is a New York-based saxophonist, arraNGER, composer and educator. Her music offers a unique meld of R&B, many forms of jazz, and funk. Her large, warm, resonant tone -that has often been compared to Johnny Griffin's -- lends itself to virtually any form of music she chooses to play. In addition to honing her chops early with Clark Terry and later Terri Lyne Carrington, she is also a noted accompanist for vocalists --among them Gregory Porter and Theo Crocker. Retox, her 2012 leader debut, offered a beat conscious set of soul and funk covers and originals produced by Ben Kane. She worked on Charenee Wade's Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson tribute, Offering in 2015. Benjamin played on "Right On Brotha, the closing track" from Robert Glasper's Everything's Beautiful in 2018, a collection of reimagined Miles Davis tracks. Her sophomore date, Rise Up for Ropeadope, contained a provocative, Prince-inspired series of original jazz-funk jams. In 2020, she released Pursuance: The Coltranes. The widely acclaimed set contained six tunes each by Alice and John Coltrane. Benjamin led a large cast of of jazz luminaries in her interpretations, including Reggie Workman, Regina Carter, Gary Bartz, Brandee Younger, and Jazzmeia Horn to mention scant few. Benjamin was born in New York City and raised in Manhattan's predominantly Dominican Washington Heights neighborhood. She played recorder in grade school and junior high where she also began writing songs and lyrics. She won admission to the Fiorello LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts. It was there she began playing saxophone in earnest. She picked it up quickly and after graduating joined the renowned jazz program at New York's New School University. At New School she studied with jazz veterans including Billy Harper, Workman, Buster Williams, and Gary Bartz. Bartz proved an important mentor. He introduced her to training technical exercise techniques while facilitating her interest in the music of jazz saxophonists including Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Jackie McLean. She also played in and performed with Clark Terry's Young Titans of Jazz, and some of Workman's ensembles. While struggling to make ends meet, she won paying gigs with as Missy Elliott and Alicia Keys, widening her approach. These influences made their presence known on Benjamin's Motema leader debut, Retox in 2010. The unusual set included Benjamin's Soul Squad band backing a number of singers and rappers in a host of originals and covers; some of which didn't feature her horn at all. She explained in interview that she didn't want to be heard as merely an instrumentalist and soloist, but as an arranger and bandleader too. She also won opportunities to play and tour with a wide array of artists including former Coltrane drummer Rashied Ali, the David Murray Big Band, vocalist Vanessa Rubin, and guitarist James Blood Ulmer. Her deep jazz roots and reputation for hard yet innovative work, made her a first call , she arranger and horn section leader, and landed touring gig with Anita Baker. In 2015, she was part of the star-studded cast that played on vocalist. arranger Charenee Wade's Offering (The Music Of Gil Scott-Heron And Brian Jackson). In addition to Benjamin, some of its other participants included Marcus Miller, Christian McBride, Malcolm Jamal-Warner, and Lonnie Plaxico. The following year she was invited by pianist Robert Glasper to participate in the sessions for his Miles Davis tribute, Everything's Beautiful; she appeared with Stevie Wonder and DJ Spinna on the set's closing track, "Right On Brotha." In 2018, Benjamin issued her Ropeadope debut album, Rise Up leading a large ensemble in a savvy jazz-funk update for the 21st century including not only players but singers and rappers. In the aftermath, she played dates in and around New York, joined Porter's road band, worked with Carrington, and was a featured musician and arranger for comedy star Craig Robinson. In addition to performing, Benjamin also became an educator, teaching at Jazz at Lincoln Center and at Jazz House Kids. Benjamin turned heads with her third album -- and second from Ropeadope -- by leaving R&B and funk by the wayside. May 2020's Pursuance: The Coltranes, is unlike any other tribute project. Its 13 tunes were equally divided between compositions by Alice and John, and offered sometimes radical reinterpretations. The outlier was "Going Home"; composed by Benjamin, its lineup included bass clarinetist Marcus Strickland, and string group Rootstock Republic. In addition to Benjamin's alto were the selectively featured horns of Bartz, Steve Wilson, Greg Osby, and Bruce Williams, harpist Brandee Younger, violinist Regina Carter, bassists Workman, Plaxico, and Me'Shell Ndegéocello, and vocalists Dee Dee Bridgewater, Jazzmeia Horn, Zakiyyah Modeste, and Dudley Perkins. The set was greeted with global acclaim by critics upon release, and subsequently charted at streaming.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Discography

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