Marco Benevento is not, at this time, a jazz musician. But he was. On his way to becoming the singing rock pianist he is today, the 39-year-old studied with Brad Mehldau and Joanne Brackeen and broke through playing organ and synths in the Benevento/Russo Duo, a jazz-rock project with drummer Joe Russo that crafted expandable music at once atmospheric and emotionally direct. Benevento has also collaborated with members of Phish; done time in an ensemble that performed the music of Miles’ Bitches Brew; and staged tributes to the late New Orleans pianist James Booker with two of Booker’s sidemen, bassist James Singleton and drummer Johnny Vidacovich. Postbop beginnings, a pop present and plenty of opportunities for improvisation in between—a rich journey.
On a warm March morning in Brooklyn, before he was to perform with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, a five-piece that delivers the songs of Jerry Garcia and company, Benevento discussed tracks by everyone from Mehldau and Brackeen to Alice Coltrane and Mary Lou Williams. His new album, the live Woodstock Sessions, had been released a few weeks prior, and includes several instrumentals. They’re not jazz cuts, but there’s a spirit in them that many jazz fans will find familiar: catharsis and excitement through just keyboards, bass and drums.