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Bennett Blends Spirituality, Melody for Playboy Pasadena Fest

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By Taylor Jordan

It was a tenor type of day for reedman Cal Bennett. The Houston native, another in the amazing school of Texas tenors, also plays the alto and soprano saxophone, flute, clarinet, oboe and piano. But he let’s the musical mood of the moment pick the saxophone he plays for each gig.

He’d already blazed tenor tones at a morning session at a Los Angeles restaurant and finished a media interview about his May 26 performance at Playboy Jazz Festival’s free concert at Old Pasadena Summer Fest.

“Today was tenor day,” Bennett asserted, laughing as he remembered the enthusiasm of the day’s earlier audience.

“The tenor was the thing that made your hair stand up, made you get a chill despite the physical warmth in the room.”

He then decided to check out the vibes and spirits within Pasadena’s Central Park before his summer fest appearance before thousands for the May 26 concluding show of Playboy’s free community concerts.

Still hot on the tenor, Bennett pulled the horn slowly, almost tenderly, from its case. He walked to a big oak tree while a handful of park patrons patiently watched him, waiting, anticipating. The gleam of the sax shone brightly and caught reflections of upturned faces as Bennett strode past them.

He closed his eyes, lifted the horn and let the song choose him.

As the instantly recognizable instrumental notes of the jazz classic “Nature Boy” filled the park, people drifted closer to Bennett and the music. Smiles spread across their faces, eyes sparkled and then closed in some sensuous memory. One couple embraced, the man’s arms gently intertwining his lady love. An elderly gentleman’s foot patted to the voluptuous rhythms. Some swayed. Others laughed, unable to contain the good feelings stirring within their spirits.

A young child ran up when Bennett played the final note. The excited boy told Bennett, he, too, wanted to be a jazz musician.

Ironically, Bennett was about the same age as the boy in Central Park when he had decided his life path would involve jazz music.

“I got my first sax in fifth or sixth grade after years of beating on pots and pans,” recalled the 52-year-old musician who started playing professionally in Houston nightclubs when he was 16.

“As a child, I knew I wanted to do music. We didn’t have a music program in elementary school, but my teacher, Warren Turner, went to the principal and convinced her to start a program. That’s when I started playing the alto sax. I added the other saxophone voices and instruments later.”Turner taught him to read music, the fundamentals of playing music, the basics of composition. The teacher expanded what his young charge had grown to appreciate at home.

Everything young Cal heard on the radio had a horn in it, either a saxophone or a trumpet.

Elgenet Bennett Patrick, a pianist, wanted her younger son to play the trumpet, “Probably because of Miles Davis,” he conceded. His older brother, Charles Bennett, Jr., played percussions and drums. His father, Charles Bennett Sr., played acoustic bass and alto sax.

His stepfather, Alfred W. Patrick, loved all music and was among the elders who saturated Cal’s world with the sounds of jazz. It was a life pattern Bennett would repeat with his own sons, Ashley and Jerome, who respectively produces music and plays piano. Jerome also plays drums and recently started studying classical piano.

“Music, whether you’re listening to, enjoying or playing it, is natural for human beings,” Bennett claimed.

“Without music, we are incomplete. For me, music was like an ancient memory calling to me. I couldn’t live or breathe without being a part of it. I had ben beating on everything since I was a little boy. When I started playing music, I felt I’d done it before.”

His home, school, community and the city of Houston were teeming with music. This was particularly appealing to the teen who balanced and excelled in music, track and field as a sprinter and low hurdler, football as a multiple rushing champion and the academics at Jack Yates High School. He came to California in 1977, attended San Joaquin Delta College and earned a bachelor degree in music, specializing in reed instruments, at the University of the Pacific.

He has played clubs, festivals and college, community and corporate concerts since he was 16 and served as musical director for Toni Braxton’s guest slots on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” He has appeared as a popular and repeated returnee to the Blue Note and House of Blues in Las Vegas, Redondo Beach’s The Strand, B.B. King’s Supper Club at University Citywalk, Long Beach Jazz Festival, Magic Johnson’s Midsummer Nights show and the Downtown Supper Club in Riverside.

He recorded two CDs, “A Stolen Moment/Local Hero” and “Moments Later,” on the Groove Time Jazz label before signing with Big Earthbeat Records in 1998. His album credits with Big Earthbeat include “Ancient Memories” and “Live at the Las Vegas Blue Note.” He is currently working on a live volume.

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