The latest recording by jazz duo Dave Askren, guitar, and Jeff Benedict, saxophone, gives a thrilling sax-guitar-vibes frontline. The album, titled Denver Sessions, features CU Boulder lecturer and drummer Paul Romaine along with vibraphonist Ted Piltzecker and bassist Patrick McDevitt.
Askren and Benedict have enjoyed a musical relationship stretching back three decades and spanning a dozen recording projects, as well as countless performances throughout the Los Angeles area. Sometimes there’s nothing better to freshen up a longstanding collaboration than a change of scenery, so for their fourth album as co-leaders, the duo embarked for the Mile High City.
Denver Sessions is the welcome result—a lively, eclectic collection that draws inspiration from throughout the jazz continuum while sounding utterly modern.
Askren, who has performed with a variety of artists spanning genres from jazz and pop to Latin music, attended and taught guitar at Boston's Berklee College of Music. He studied privately with saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, pianist Charlie Banacos, guitarist Mick Goodrick and drummers Bob Moses and Bob Gullotti.
A renowned performer and educator in LA, Benedict has been playing professionally since the age of 14. An accomplished classical musician, Benedict was the lead alto saxophonist in the Aspen Jazz Ensemble for nearly a decade and has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Pacific Symphony Orchestra and the Denver Symphony, among other ensembles.
Denver Sessions was sparked by Askren and Benedict wanting to record with New York-based vibist Ted Piltzecker. “Dave and I are always looking for the next project,” says Benedict. That search is borne out by their shared discography. Each of their collaborative releases has featured a different lineup and setting, allowing them to stretch their well-honed chemistry into new terrain.
The move to Denver was encouraged by Paul Romaine, a first-call drummer for touring jazz greats such as Eddie Harris, Benny Golson and James Moody, as well as a childhood friend of Benedict’s who last joined the pair on Come Together. It was a homecoming for Benedict, who earned his master’s in composition from the University of Denver and spent 10 years on the scene there before relocating to the West Coast.
At first the notion seemed absurd—why would a frontline split between the jazz meccas of LA and NYC converge in Colorado, of all places? But Askren and Benedict soon warmed to the idea. Romaine had a close relationship with Mighty Fine Productions, a stellar studio, and with bassist Patrick McDevitt, who completed the quintet. He also arranged for the band to conduct master classes and play local concerts and radio appearances while in town.
“It turned from a recording date into a weeklong hang with a series of gigs culminating in the session,” Askren points out. “Instead of just staying home and heading off to the studio every morning, we were off on a trip.”
Beyond being a virtuoso of the vibraphone, Piltzecker is also the ideal companion for such an excursion. His switch to the vibes after earning a degree in trumpet at Eastman School of Music is just one example of his eccentric talents.
“Ted's always a great hang,” Benedict says with a laugh. “He juggles, he rides a unicycle, he's a pilot—and he just happens to play vibes really well. He's a great person to collaborate...with because he's got big ears and listens to all kinds of music.”
As Askren and Benedict conceived new music for the date, the sax-guitar-vibes frontline led them to delve into that unique formation’s history for inspiration. The gravitational pull of the mid-’60s Golden Age proved irresistible, boasting such legendary figures as Bobby Hutcherson and Milt Jackson. Perhaps the most famous example, the Benny Goodman Sextet with guitarist Charlie Christian and Lionel Hampton, led to the inclusion of the album’s sole cover, a dynamic rendition of the classic Stompin’ at the Savoy.
Whether it was the sonic blend of their instruments with Piltzecker’s vibes, the camaraderie shared by the members of the quintet, or the change of scenery, Askren and Benedict were thrilled by the Denver Sessions and the chemistry they quickly forged with this unique quintet.
“On the surface there are several different jazz genres thrown together here,” Askren says. “What’s cool is it’s all the same guys with our own styles, so by the end it really sounds like a band. Maybe that wouldn’t have happened anywhere else.”
About Paul Romaine
A jazz studies lecturer in the CU Boulder College of Music, Romaine says he felt drawn to music from the depth of his being throughout his childhood. He began playing drums professionally at age 14 and has led, recorded or performed with countless combinations of the Denver area’s best players and with internationally acclaimed artists.
During his association with the Woody Herman Orchestra, he toured North America performing concerts and clinics. In between gigs, he studied jazz composition at the Lamont School of Music and in 1991 received a degree in recording engineering from the University of Colorado.
Upon seeing the need for a jazz education program for middle-school and high-school students who are serious about music, Romaine founded the Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts, which offers a program for Denver-area students to play together and study with professional musicians on a weekly basis.