Performance Friday, February 3, 2012 | 10 PM

Ben Allison

Zankel Hall
Bassist-composer Ben Allison is one of a few band leaders working in jazz today who has developed his own instantly identifiable sound. Known for his lyrical melodies, inventive grooves, and inspired arrangements, he seamlessly blends jazz, rock, folk, and world music into a cinematic, cohesive whole.


  • Ben Allison, Bass
  • Michael Blake, Tenor Saxophone and Clarinet
  • Steve Cardenas, Guitar
  • Rudy Royston, Drums
  • Brandon Seabrook, Guitar and Banjo
  • Rogerio Boccato, Percussion
  • Joey Arias, Vocals


  • Ben Allison

    Bassist-composer Ben Allison is one of a few band leaders working in jazz today who has developed his own instantly identifiable sound. Known for his inspired arrangements, inventive grooves, and hummable melodies, Allison draws from the jazz tradition and influences that range from rock and folk to classical and world music, seamlessly blending them into a cinematic, cohesive whole.

    With his groups-Ben Allison Band, Man Size Safe, Peace Pipe, and Medicine Wheel-Allison has toured extensively throughout North America, Europe, and Brazil, winning fans and building new audiences with an adventurous yet accessible sound and a flair for the unexpected. He has also released 10 CDs on Palmetto Records-all of which showcase his forward-thinking vision as a producer, composer, arranger, and bassist.

    Allison has been cited in the Downbeat Critics Poll bassist (2010 and 2011) and composer categories (2010), and was named Rising Star Bassist in 2005, 2006, and 2007. His most recent album, Action-Refraction, reached the top of the CMJ national jazz radio charts and remained in the top 20 for over three months, making it one of the most-played CDs of 2011. His previous six albums, achieved similar radio success, garnering him six SESAC National Performance Awards, and have been named as among the best of the year by publications such as Billboard, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Village Voice, and JazzTimes, among many others.

    At the age of 25, Allison formed the Jazz Composers Collective-a musician-run, non-profit organization based in New York City that is dedicated to constructing an environment where artists can exercise their ideals of creating and risking through the development and exploration of new music. As its artistic director and a composer-in-residence, he has produced or co-produced more than 100 concerts and special events. Also as a member of the Collective, Allison has received commissioning, performing, and recording grants from Chamber Music America, Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, National Endowment for the Arts, Aaron Copland Foundation, Meet the Composer, and American Composers Forum. Visit for more information.

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  • Michael Blake

    Michael Blake has released 10 critically acclaimed CDs, ranging from original contemporary concept albums to mainstream projects, such as his tribute to the under-recognized saxophonist Lucky Thompson. He has received study, commission, and travel grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, and received Chamber Music America's Doris Duke grant for new jazz works. Blake is a faculty member at Europe's oldest jazz master's program in Siena, Italy, where he has taught alongside Kenny Werner, Rufus Reid, Greg Osby, and Enrico Rava. Blake has also performed at jazz festivals worldwide and has conducted workshops in Canada, Italy, Brazil, Denmark, and Portugal. His work has been profiled in The New York Times, DownBeat, The New Yorker, The Globe and Mail, and All About Jazz, as well as many online, European, and Canadian music journals. Among the many artists Blake has recorded and performed with are Oliver Lake; Grachan Moncour III; Medeski, Martin & Wood; Ray LaMontagne; Enrico Rava; Stefano Bollani; The Gil Evans Orchestra; Ben E. King; Neil Sedaka; Tricky; Prince Paul; Natalie Cole; Steven Bernstein; Dr. Lonnie Smith; Hal Willner; "Sir Coxsone" Dodd; and Pinetop Perkins.

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  • Steve Cardenas

    Steve Cardenas has been an integral part of the jazz community in New York City for 16 years. He has performed and recorded with such groups as the Paul Motian Septet, Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, the Ben Allison Band, and the Steve Swallow Quintet, to mention a few. Cardenas also leads his own trio, performing at a number of venues around New York City. His latest album, West of Middle, was released in 2010, featuring Ben Allison and Rudy Royston. He has toured Europe extensively, including the North Sea and Montreux jazz festivals, and has appeared as a sideman on more than 100 recordings. Cardenas teaches at The New School, where he leads the Thelonious Monk Ensemble and gives private lessons. Cardenas also collaborated on a book of Monk's compositions through publisher Hal Leonard; the Thelonious Monk Fakebook marks the premier publishing of all of Monk's compositions, with many of them appearing in print for the first time.

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  • Rudy Royston

    Rudy Royston began playing drums and percussion as a toddler, playing in church and along with an eclectic array of LPs his siblings would have on rotation. The youngest of five, Royston attributes his musical interests and palate to his three older brothers and his father. He went on to study marching percussion, classical percussion, and jazz performance at University of Northern Colorado, Metropolitan State College of Denver, and University of Denver. While in college, Royston began playing with well-regarded trumpeter Ron Miles. He taught music for 10 years in the public schools before relocating to the East Coast in 2006 to pursue his graduate studies at the Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University. Royston quickly integrated himself into the New York music scene, performing with world-renowned artists such as Javon Jackson, Bill Frisell, Les McCann, David Gilmore, Jason Moran, JD Allen, Sean Jones, Jeremy Pelt, Greg Osby, Jennifer Holliday, Tia Fuller, Ravi Coltrane, Ralph Bowen, Bruce Barth, George Colligan, Don Byron, Stanley Cowell, Tom Harrell, John Ellis, Jenny Scheinman, and the Mingus Big Band.

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  • Brandon Seabrook

    Originally from Foxboro, Massachusetts, guitarist and banjo-player Brandon Seabrook moved to New York City in 2003. He derived early musical inspiration from iconic guitarists such as D. Boon of the Minutemen and Edward Van Halen. While studying with percussionist Bob Moses at the New England Conservatory, Seabrook discovered the tenor banjo. He founded the band Seabrook Power Plant as a way to explore the uniquely percussive qualities of the instrument, a pursuit that has, in turn, changed the way he approaches the guitar. The band has released two records to critical acclaim. Recent collaborations include performances with vocalist and performance artist Joey Arias at Town Hall and Abrons Arts Center, and with drummer Gerald Cleaver's Black Host. Seabrook is a contributing writer to The Fretboard Journal and was awarded Best Original Score at the 2010 Brooklyn Film Festival.

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  • Rogerio Boccato

    Rogerio Boccato plays in projects led by some of today's leading jazz players, among them Danilo Pérez, John Patitucci, Edward Simon, David Binney, Paul Bollenback, Jon Gordon, and Mike Holober. He has also collaborated with top-ranking Brazilian artists, such as Toninho Horta, Dori Caymmi, Moacir Santos, and Vinicius Cantuária. As a longtime member of the Orquestra Jazz Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo, Boccato performend with Antônio Carlos Jobim, Hermeto Pascoal, Milton Nascimento, Egberto Gismonti, João Bosco, Joe Zawinul, among many others. He is featured on two Grammy-nominated albums: Kenny Garrett's Beyond the Wall and John Patitucci's Remembrance, alongside Joe Lovano and Brian Blade. Boccato has been a faculty member of the Manhattan School of Music, The Hartt School, and Montclair State University. He has been presenting clinics on Brazilian music, focusing on traditional Brazilian rhythms and styles applied to the drum set and jazz combos, which have been enthusiastically received at universities around the United States, Mexico, and Portugal.

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  • Joey Arias

    Joey Arias is a New York City-based performance artist, cabaret singer, and drag artist. While working at a designer clothing store in the mid-1970s, he became friends with alternative icon Klaus Nomi, singing backup and designing sets and costumes. In December 1979, the two appeared on Saturday Night Live, accompanying David Bowie in a performance of "TVC 15." Arias gradually became involved in the burgeoning 1980s New York performance-art scene, appearing regularly at Club 57 and other downtown venues. During these years, he also began crafting a successful career in cabaret, based on his talent for channeling the vocal style and mannerisms of the legendary Billie Holiday.

    In 2003, Arias starred in Cirque du Soleil's Zumanity in Las Vegas, for which he also co-wrote two songs. After six years, he returned to New York, where he starred in Arias with a Twist, a collaboration with master puppeteer Basil Twist. The show has since spawned a "docufantasy" film of the same name, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2010. Arias is particularly notable for his portrayal of Joan Crawford in New York and San Francisco productions of Christmas with the Crawfords, an original holiday spoof of Christina Crawford's book Mommie Dearest. His feature-film credits include Big Top Pee-Wee; Mondo New York; Elvira, Mistress of the Dark; Flawless; To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar; and Wigstock: The Movie.

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Ben Allison

Jeff Tamarkin on Ben Allison

Ben Allison is not only one of the most prolific artists in contemporary jazz, he’s also one of its strongest advocates. “I believe very strongly that the jazz tradition has to continue to evolve and grow,” he told after a gig at the Newport Jazz Festival. “I hope to be a voice in that growth.” And undeniably, he has been for two decades.

Fans of the acclaimed bassist might wonder, then, why Allison chose not to offer new original compositions but instead a set of interpretations for his 10th album. The answer, it turns out, is rather simple: “Action-Refraction is my attempt at reimagining other people’s music,” he says of the album. “Part of the challenge that I set for myself was to pull together a very diverse group of tunes: Samuel Barber (“St. Ita’s Vision”), Thelonious Monk (“Jackie-ing”), PJ Harvey (“Missed”), Neil Young (“Philadelphia”), and Donny Hathaway (“Some Day We’ll All Be Free”). I picked tunes I wish I’d written. I was trying to make a cohesive statement that has my stamp on it. There is something about each that is personal and familiar.”

Allison will surely bring that commitment to inventiveness and direct connection with him when he makes his debut appearance at Zankel Hall with Michael Blake on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Steve Cardenas on guitar, Brandon Seabrook on guitar and banjo, Rudy Royston on drums, Rogerio Boccato on percussion, and Joey Arias contributing vocals. All but the last two appear on Action-Refraction, but Allison promises something different for the show: “With this particular concert, we’re going a little bit unplugged,” he says. “Carnegie Hall is a milestone in any musician’s career and I feel that it’s my obligation, as a jazz musician, to do something new—at least new for me.”

Interestingly, Allison—considered one of the most prominent acoustic bassists in jazz today—came to the instrument by accident. He was studying both guitar and West African drumming in high school, “feeling a little pulled, a little scattered,” when his ensemble instructor asked him to sit in on bass one day because the band’s regular bassist was ill. Allison fell instantly in love. “It felt like the child of the guitar and the drum, a combination of those two instruments,” he says, “especially the way I play it, with a lot of percussive aspects.”

Allison hasn’t looked back since, and the jazz world is thankful for that. “Improvisation is an essential component of what I like to be involved with,” he says. “That’s what turns me on, that feeling that keeps it kind of risky and dangerous and exciting. I’m a proponent of new music, and jazz is music that seeks the times. I’m a child of today’s world and jazz is a reflection of what’s happening now.”

Jeff Tamarkin is associate editor of JazzTimes magazine.

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