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Ben Sidran Recounts His Seven Decades in Jazz

For this veteran singer, songwriter, and pianist, it's not just about the notes

Ben Sidran
Ben Sidran (photo: Pierre Darmon)

On the eve of his 75th birthday, singer/songwriter/pianist Ben Sidran decided to release a three-CD compilation of performances spanning the last 40 years or so. Ben There, Done That, released on Sunset Boulevard Records, features an engrossing range of live cuts from 1975 to 2015, with cameos from David “Fathead” Newman and Phil Woods. Go ahead and do all that math. With or without a calculator app, it adds up to a long career—nearly 70 years of playing music that blends the swing of jazz with hipster wit and classic R&B-style melodic accessibility.

Born in Chicago and raised in Racine, Wis., Sidran started out playing in Madison in a local group with Boz Scaggs and Steve Miller. We know how this ends, but Sidran didn’t. In fact, he ran away from it. After all, it was just a college band. “Boz played bass, I played piano, Steve played guitar, and we played fraternities,” he says. “I went on to graduate school in Brighton, England. I got a Ph.D. in American Studies and went there to avoid the draft, of course.” The other two stayed in the U.S. for less academic pursuits; Miller signed a record deal in San Francisco, then went over to London to record—the kind of thing incipient rock stars did back in the ’60s. Miller hooked up with his old bandmate in England and they made four records together, collaborating on several songs, including the hit “Space Cowboy.” But Sidran wasn’t in Miller’s touring band. “I was just a jazz guy,” he recalls. “When it turned into rock & roll, I got real bored real fast.”

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