An adventurous jazz saxophonist, Ben Wendel is known for his harmonically sophisticated, motivic-based style of improvisation and broad compositional style touching upon post-bop, classical, and post-rock influences. Wendel first emerged as a member of the forward-thinking ensemble Kneebody in the early 2000s. With Kneebody he earned a Grammy nomination for the group's 2009 album Twelve Songs by Charles Ives. As a solo artist, Wendel has garnered attention for his own sophisticated records, including 2009's Simple Song and 2016's What We Bring, with pianist Gerald Clayton. In addition to his ongoing work with Kneebody, he has drawn inspiration from the work of Tchaikovsky for 2018's The Seasons and continued to push the stylistic boundaries of his small group on releases such as 2020's High Heart. Born in Vancouver in 1976 and raised in Santa Monica, California, Wendel grew up in a creative, musically inclined family. Encouraged to pursue music from a young age by his mother, opera soprano and arts administrator Dale Franzen, he started out on the piano at age five and began playing the saxophone around age ten. In his teens, he balanced his time between playing saxophone and bassoon and listening to an eclectic mix of music, from jazz and classical to hip-hop. After high school, Wendel studied at the Eastman School of Music, where he befriended trumpeter Shane Endsley, keyboardist Adam Benjamin, and bassist Kaveh Rastegar. Upon graduating, they all relocated to Los Angeles and formed the experimental ensemble Kneebody along with California Institute of the Arts graduate and drummer Nate Wood. As a member of Kneebody, Wendel garnered acclaim for such albums as 2005's Kneebody and 2007's Low Electrical Worker, both released on trumpeter Dave Douglas' Greenleaf Records label. In 2009, the group earned a Grammy nomination for Twelve Songs by Charles Ives, a collaborative album with singer Theo Bleckmann. On his own, Wendel has worked with a bevy of highly regarded jazz artists including Todd Sickafoose, Taylor Eigsti, Tigran Hamasyan, and others. He also has a long-running collaboration with electronic musician Alfred Darlington (aka Daedelus), a former high school classmate. As a leader, Wendel debuted in 2009 with Simple Song, followed in 2012 by Frame. He then paired with pianist Dan Tepfer for 2013's Small Constructions. That year, he also reunited with his Kneebody bandmates for Line on Concord. Two years later, the saxophonist was back with Kneebody for Kneedelus, a collaboration with Daedelus on Brainfeeder. In 2016, Wendel delivered his third full-length solo album, the acoustic modern creative-leaning What We Bring, featuring pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Joe Sanders, and drummer Henry Cole. The following year, he was back with Kneebody for Anti-Hero. The Seasons arrived in 2018, and found the saxophonist drawing inspiration from composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's classic 12-part cycle. Wendel again reunited with Kneebody for the group's tenth album, 2019's Chapters, and returned to his solo work with 2020's High Heart.
© Matt Collar /TiVo
© Matt Collar /TiVo
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