Hear the Experimental Piano Jazz Album by Comedian H. Jon Benjamin — Who Can’t Play Piano

I won­der: do the fan bases of mod­ern com­e­dy and mod­ern jazz over­lap at all? At first, it’s hard to imag­ine two artis­tic worlds far­ther apart, with the come­di­ans seem­ing like unse­ri­ous goof­balls who con­sid­er noth­ing sacred and the jazz play­ers seem­ing like seri­ous artists who regard their musi­cal tra­di­tion as sacred indeed. But look clos­er and the dif­fer­ence does­n’t seem as stark as all that: com­e­dy and jazz, both per­for­ma­tive pur­suits, demand from those who want to suc­ceed in them an almost obses­sive com­mit­ment to improv­ing their craft. And the best prac­ti­tion­ers of both, despite acknowl­edg­ing the impor­tance of learn­ing and build­ing upon the work of their antecedents, have to know when to break from tra­di­tion and exper­i­ment.

So per­haps H. Jon Ben­jam­in’s new album Well, I Should Have, which brings com­e­dy and jazz togeth­er but not in the way any of us would have expect­ed, comes as some­thing of an inevitabil­i­ty. Ben­jamin, a come­di­an best known for doing voic­es on such ani­mat­ed shows as ArcherBob’s Burg­ersDr. Katz: Pro­fes­sion­al Ther­a­pist and Home Movies, has put out not a record of sketch­es or stand-up mate­r­i­al, but of actu­al jazz music, with him sit­ting at the piano. The comedic ele­ment? The album has a sub­ti­tle: … Learned to Play the Piano.

“I don’t play piano at all,” Ben­jamin dead­pans in the trail­er for Well, I Should Have… at the top of the post. “And I’m not a huge fan of jazz. I nev­er was. And that’s why I thought it would be fun­ny to make a jazz album.” To com­pen­sate for his total lack of skill or expe­ri­ence at his instru­ment, Ben­jamin brought three gen­uine jazz pro­fes­sion­als into the stu­dio to fill out the quar­tet: Scott Kre­itzer on sax­o­phone, David Finck on bass, and Jonathan Peretz on drums, all of whom do their best to build legit­i­mate com­po­si­tions around Ben­jam­in’s near-ran­dom pok­ing and slap­ping of the ivories. Here we see — or rather hear — revealed some­thing else in com­mon between come­di­ans and jazz musi­cians: both need to impro­vise.

In the end, you could lis­ten to this as either a con­cep­tu­al com­e­dy album, a con­cep­tu­al jazz album, or both. You can hear selec­tions from it (though, giv­en the videos’ geo-restric­tion, that depends on which coun­try you’re in) in the playlist just above. For most of us, show­ing up to a record­ing ses­sion com­plete­ly igno­rant of the instru­ment we have to play con­sti­tutes the stuff of night­mares, but Ben­jamin uses it as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to play a role he calls “Jazz Dare­dev­il.” Does this count as real com­e­dy? It cer­tain­ly gets me laugh­ing. I’ll leave the oth­er obvi­ous ques­tion to the seri­ous jazz afi­ciona­dos, who seem to enjoy only one thing almost as much as lis­ten­ing to jazz: argu­ing over what counts as jazz. If Ben­jamin has a par­tic­u­lar joke to make with all this, it may be on them.

via Metafil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

This is Your Brain on Jazz Impro­vi­sa­tion: The Neu­ro­science of Cre­ativ­i­ty

Philoso­pher Jacques Der­ri­da Inter­views Jazz Leg­end Ornette Cole­man: Talk Impro­vi­sa­tion, Lan­guage & Racism (1997)

10 Great Per­for­mances From 10 Leg­endary Jazz Artists: Djan­go, Miles, Monk, Coltrane & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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