November 12, 2010
Breaking new ground
DAVID J. LITVAK
In his native Holland, prolific jazz saxophonist Benjamin Herman is known for breaking new ground and winning countless awards. At age 21, he was chosen as Holland’s best young jazz musician, was named the country’s best jazz musician again in 2006 and won several Edison awards (the Dutch equivalent of a Grammy).
North American jazz aficionados will get a chance to hear Herman perform live when he embarks on his debut North American tour, with a performance scheduled at Vancouver’s Western Front on Nov. 20, accompanied by three of Holland’s most talented jazz musicians, collectively known as the Benjamin Herman Quartet.
Herman’s band includes bassist Ernst Glerum, guitarist Anton Goudsmit and drummer Joost Patoca. Both Glerum and Goudsmit have performed with John Zorn (among others), while Patocka has performed with the Beets Brothers and Europe’s first lady of jazz, Rita Reys.
Herman’s versatile quartet are celebrating the release of a special edition of Hypochristmastreefuzz, a 2008 recording that is being introduced to North American audiences live for the first time. It features songs written by legendary Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg (the co-founder of a groundbreaking Dutch group called the ICP Orchestra), with whom Herman collaborated in 2001 for a live recording.
Aside from showcasing tunes from Hypochristmastreefuzz, Herman’s band will perform an array of tunes from their eclectic repertoire, including a surf version of Doris Day’s “Would I Love You?” as well as an original Herman tune called “Do the Roach,” which incorporates the influence of both Duke Ellington and Dick Dale.
Herman also has a great love of pop and African music, and has recorded many of his own CDs, appearing as a sideman or leader on more than 100 recordings. He also likes to explore the boundaries of jazz with his New Cool Collective, which he formed in 1994, a big-band ensemble that blends salsa, punk, free jazz and surf music. The band, which has performed in Africa twice, has also collaborated with hip-hop artist Typhoon, afro-beat legend Tony Allen, singer Georgie Fame and others. Aside from being a prolific recording artist – in 2009, he released four CDs, a record and a DVD – Herman hosts a jazz and soul music radio show on Dutch Radio 6.
In an e-mail interview with the Independent, Herman said he started playing music at the age of nine when he got his first drum set and that, in the beginning, playing music was a catharsis.
“I had an older sister who died when she cycled through a red light. Bashing away at the drums for an hour every day helped me get some of the trauma out of my system,” he said. Because drums can be cumbersome when traveling, Herman eventually started playing the sax.
According to Herman, everyone in his family played an instrument. “My father was a musician when he was young and he used to play trombone with Ronnie Scott, who started one of Europe’s finest jazz clubs, Ronnie Scott’s in London.” In later years, his father, Sonny Herman (a beloved member of the Dutch Jewish community who passed away in 2009), became a rabbi at the Southgate Reform synagogue in London. When the family moved to Holland in 1976, Herman senior became a psychoanalyst specializing in treating people with Holocaust trauma.
Although Herman is not religious, he was influenced by his father’s approach to the synagogue service. “He was always very loose and relaxed and in for a bit of fun during the service,” he said. “But he also knew when to be serious and was able to get everyone’s full concentration and attention. I notice, as I get older, my gigs are like that, too.”
Over the years, Herman has performed Jewish music and has written songs inspired by his heritage but he admits that, up until now, he’s not had the ambition to pursue the genre. “My heroes are people like Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis. I am proud of my Jewish heritage, but I think it was Jimi Hendrix who said, ‘Music is my religion.’ I tend to agree,” Herman concluded.
For information and tickets, visit coastaljazz.ca.
David J. Litvak is a freelance writer and publicist living in Vancouver.