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Bassist Max Bennett Dies at 90

His varied career included stints with Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, and the L.A. Express

Max Bennett
Max Bennett at Hollywood’s Radio Recorders studio in the 1960s (photo: courtesy of Kate Varley)

Max Bennett, the protean bassist who served as a sparkplug for small bebop units, modern big bands, and contemporary fusion groups alike, died at his home in San Clemente, Calif., on Sept. 14. He was 90. Bennett’s storied career as a member of the so-called “Wrecking Crew” of Los Angeles session musicians included work on dozens of 1960s and ’70s Top 40 hits. He also spent long periods backing up legendary singers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, and—as a founding member of the L.A. Express—Joni Mitchell, as well as being a bandleader/composer in his own right.

Born in Des Moines and raised in Kansas City and Oklahoma, Bennett studied contrabass at the University of Iowa. His first jazz job was with saxophonist Herbie Fields in 1949. He was soon in demand for modern jazz groups led by Terry Gibbs, Georgie Auld, and Charlie Ventura. “Max was in the first road band I ever put together,” Gibbs says. “That was with pianist Lou Levy and drummer Tiny Kahn. We worked one gig and then Georgie Auld took those guys and added Frank Rosolino for his own band. Max had great time, a beautiful sound, and great big ears. He knew what note you were going to play on the chord before you played it.”

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