Marco Benevento tours with the lineup of a classic jazz trio but is writing songs that reflect his early love of rock music, even as they leave room for improvisation. “I’m traveling with my own piano — it’s only 61 notes, not 88. It was made this small in 1927 for use in train cars,” he explains. “I’m taking this old piece of furniture, this old instrument, on the road with me, and I have it hot-rodded with guitar pickups and effects pedals and run the piano into an amplifier live, so it’s an energetic, very loud rock show.”
Benevento has appeared in Louisville several times over the years, first with the Benevento-Russo Duo and recently with his trio, which consists of bassist Dave Dreiwitz (Ween) and drummer Andy Borger (Norah Jones, Tom Waits). “They’ve been my band for four years. They really know the music, we really sound like a band,” Benevento says.
A rock-loving child, he had a keyboard in his bedroom and later added a 4-track recorder. “I liked to record and play songs that I knew, from Zeppelin to Beatles, and even some Herbie Hancock funk stuff. As I grew as a musician, I got into jazz. I feel like most musicians who are really interested in learning about music and theory and practicing and getting to a higher level of improvisation, you wind up getting into jazz.”
Benevento moved to New York after college to start a jazz trio, but “I kind of went full circle — got back into the whole rock thing about that time. I ran into my old middle school friend Joe Russo, and we started playing again as the Benevento-Russo Duo. It was more experimental at first, but it kind of morphed into this songwriting world as we started touring and making records.
“I had studied jazz at Berklee, but then I realized, ‘Wow! I like rock music, and my heart’s more into this than learning a Bill Evans or Oscar Peterson solo.’”
These days, he’s enjoying making the experience more melodic, something to bounce along to. “I’m putting on shows that are more digestible for the audience. I feel like the melodies are important for people to get into,” he says. “However, at some point in the night — it might not be right at the beginning — but after we get warmed up a little bit and get to know the audience better, reading their vibes, at some point there might be a song that lends itself to more playing and stretching. It’s really rewarding to land in that solo section and start to really just improvise and go for it, and interact with my band a little more and try to involve the audience with the improvisation.
“So even though I’m focused on the songwriting part, I think it’s just as important to let people know that ‘Hey, we like to improvise and have a good time, we’re going to take this section of the song and stretch it out a bit, because we’re ready.’”
To actually make money while making music — jazz, rock or otherwise — you’ve got to gig. It’s a lot of driving and a lot of work, Benevento says, but it may also be the only way people will get exposed to his music.
“I like knowing it’s going right into their ears, and that they might even grab a record on their way out and play it for their friends, and the friends will play it for their friends,” he says. “So, it’s that feeling of spreading the music and working hard to get people to check it out and realize they like it.”
Benevento takes touring in stride. “I really like meeting people in the different towns. When all is said and done, and you’re finally playing for the people, you forget about all the hardships of the day and you get a chance to reset yourself and have a little moment where you can escape from the world, which is what the people are trying to do anyway when they’re there. So, I’m happy to supply the escape for the people, and hopefully they’ll smile and be psyched.”
Marco Benevento with Roadie & Danny Kiely
Friday, April 5
102 Bauer Ave.
$10; 9 p.m.