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Benn Clatworthy

It would be difficult for me to think of a harder working musician than Benn Clatworthy. A tenor saxophonist that is every bit the player that Joshua Redman is, Clatworthy has been a staple in Los Angeles clubs for the past two decades. He has a brand new album, "Let's Face the Music" (available by calling 562-698-8267 or by email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) and we spoke at length about his release and his humble life in music. The following is a portrait of one of the most unheralded musicians in the music, in his own words.

FJ: Let's start from the beginning.

BC: I just somehow knew that I always wanted to do it. That's all. I don't know why. It's something that chooses you. I think. I started on the drums and the guitar and then I found the saxophone and that worked best for me.

FJ: Who were your influences then?

BC: Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Booker Ervin.

FJ: Your first Sonny Rollins album?

BC: The first one I got. "Sonny Rollins on Impulse!" or was it a Prestige one? I love "Sonny Rollins on Impulse!" anyway. That's the one that sticks in my mind.

FJ: What was it about Sonny's playing?

BC: Everything. I guess rhythmically, he's so fantastic.

FJ: What area of England are you from?

BC: I was born in a place called Hastings, but my home is in south London. An actual fact, the street that my dad lived on, or lived on since I was thirteen was just, I just saw it in a movie called "Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels." That movie is filmed on my street, funny enough. It's quite amazing.

FJ: When did you come to the States?

BC: In 1980.

FJ: Is the scene in England different from the one in Los Angeles?

BC: Actually, it's hard for me to tell really, because when I go, I've been here so long now that when I go, I just go and work. It's hard for me to see exactly what's happening on the scene because I'm just down there working every night. It's hard to get a perspective unless you're living there. Everything is booked before I go so it's not like I'm asking for work when I'm there, but there's a lot of people playing over there. There's some good players. The audience reaction is always good when you're visiting somewhere. Then people come out and see you probably more than if you were playing in Los Angeles, which is where I live. People don't come out so much, specifically to see me because I'm playing around in town so much. If you want to get a little gig in a nightclub and the guy doesn't know who you are, it might take you six months to hustle him into giving you a gig, but I manage to keep working pretty much all the time. It's a very strange business. I don't think you necessarily get a gig because you're good or bad. That you're working all the time doesn't necessarily mean you're good or that you are not working, it doesn't mean necessarily that you're bad. It's how much time you're willing to hustle to get the work.

FJ: Let's talk about your new recording "Let's Face The Music."

BC: I like it. I made it with a great friend of mine, Jimmy Paxson, who is a fantastic drummer from Philly. He used to live out here for a while and we used to work together so it was a pleasure to do it with him. We got some other great players on it. It was really a lot of fun making it. Theo Saunders is on the album, another good friend of mine, a wonderful piano player, along with Christoph Luty, an excellent bass player who lives out here, and another great friend of mine, Michito Sanchez is playing congas on a couple of tracks. I think it's an enjoyable album. I like it. I'm not someone who will listen to myself more than I have to. I'd rather listen to someone else.

FJ: And what influenced the music on the album?

BC: Emotion, I suppose.

FJ: Referring to that emotion, you have an original tune on the album called "The Boxer," what emotion is that conveying?

BC: It's built on the sound of a speed bag when you workout. I go boxing. I workout boxing quite a bit, which is really a ridiculous hobby for a saxophone player. And I keep telling myself to stop, but anyway that's built on the sound of the speed bag, CHAK-A-TA, CHAK-A-TA, CHAK-A-TA, CHAK-A-TA. So that's what that's about.

FJ: What intrigues you about boxing?

BC: It's a great discipline. It's nice, for most of my playing time, I haven't really done something other than practice. I used to go boxing when I was a kid and in the last few years, I've been doing it again and it's nice to go and do something disciplined and learn that it doesn't involve me so personally. It's a discipline that gives me pleasure without me having to take it too personally. It makes you sweat. Sweat all the stuff out of my system. I go there and hang out with the fighters.

FJ: How important is discipline in your life and your playing?

BC: Discipline is everything. Doing anything well is a discipline. Whatever it might be, whether you're a businessman or any kind of artist, it's all discipline. Discipline is of the essence. The freedom to play well comes from the discipline of practice and being aware of what you're doing and aware of what you're playing and the sound of your horn. All that is discipline. All that getting up with a hangover to play, that's part of the discipline. You have to have that. Without that, I don't think you can really play. That's why these phenomenally talented young guys will never reach what they could do because they don't have the discipline to practice and work. So you get a cat that doesn't have as much natural talent who will end up playing a lot more music because he has discipline to search, to practice, and find the soul in the music. He searches for his soul.

FJ: Would you say you're a working class musician?

BC: A poor musician, I don't know about working class. Yes, I guess so. It's difficult not making a lot of money. As you get older, it gets to be a drag. You get good weeks and you get bad weeks so. It would be nice to make more money, I must say. I don't have anyone from Verve or any of those people calling me up or checking me out. As negative as you can sound sometimes, trying to make a living in this music, really you've got to basically be an optimist. You have to believe that at some point in time, you're going to get good enough or someone's going to hear you that you'll get a break and you'll be busy making a decent living. I don't think too much about that stuff. Consequently, I don't really read the trade papers that much, because I may become depressed seeing all these cats doing well when you're not. I try not to be involved in that stuff, complaining about it. It doesn't serve you no purpose. I just try and get up in the morning and practice and improve as a musician.

FJ: How much do you practice?

BC: I used to always practice by the clock. I practice pretty much all day. I get up, practice a bit, make a couple of phone calls, practice a bit, read a book, practice a bit.

FJ: How do you feel about where you are at musically?

BC: To me, most of the time, you don't feel that you're that good. And then every couple of months, you have a couple of days where you start feeling like you're playing great. And then that goes away again. You always feel like you're at the beginning, a constant really, because wherever you are, you are actually at the beginning. Whatever level you're at, you're still at the beginning of where you've got to go. You're still at the start every morning and that's how it is, always at the beginning.

FJ: Can you imagine doing anything else?

BC: Some nights you might think twice since this is so much stress mentally. But no, I will never give up. What else am I going to do? I've got to see it through. See it through. See where you can get with it. But it can be a bit depressing, but it's not. The thing with music is you're supposed to effect emotions. You have to not be afraid to show emotion when you play either, lifting them, or making them feel sorrow or joy. If you're not doing that, well then you're not playing and it ain't worth a stuff. You can run around the saxophone playing all sorts of stuff, but if you're not effecting emotions, as far as I'm concerned, in my opinion, it really has very little value. It's just a technical exercise. I couldn't work a nine to five gig. I'm too temperamental. No, don't think I could do that. I don't want to do it. I don't crave security that much.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Benn Clatworthy
  • Subtitle: Up close and personal with tenor saxophonist, Benn
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