Marco Benevento’s love of N.O. and its music keeps him coming back

Photo provided by Calabro Music Media -- Marco Benevento
Photo provided by Calabro Music Media -- Marco Benevento

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For the past 10 years, Woodstock, N.Y.-based keyboardist Marco Benevento has made annual spring pilgrimages to New Orleans. His trips down South always coincide with the Jazz and Heritage Festival.

When Benevento is here during the 10 musically intense days that include the two weekends of Jazz Fest, he performs as many as two or three gigs a day. They include trio shows featuring bassist George Porter Jr. and drummer Johnny Vidacovich. Benevento is also among the many keyboardists who play at WWOZ’s annual Piano Night.

He’s also a member of Garage A Trois, the rock-funk-jazz quartet that includes Galactic drummer Stanton Moore, saxophonist Skerik and vibraphonist-percussionist Mike Dillon.

Benevento returns to New Orleans this weekend for a show Saturday at the Blue Nile.

“It’s important to visit when it’s not Jazz Fest,” he said from Woodstock. “As a true lover of New Orleans, you’ve got to experience the city in another time frame, when it’s way more chill.”

Benevento made his first trip to New Orleans 12 years ago as part of the Benevento/Russo Duo, which featured himself at the organ and Joe Russo playing drums.

“It was immediate love when I went down there,” he recalled. “I knew then that I would be learning more about the musical history there. Since then I’ve been able to weave a bunch of friendships and know the spots to play and know who to play with. It’s grown organically through the years.”

Sharing stages with Porter, the busy, master bassist who originally made his mark with New Orleans’ great funk band, the Meters, has been a special treat. When Benevento was a high school student in the New Jersey suburbs, making his transition from rock to jazz and funk, the Meters’ 1969 album, “Look-Ka Py Py,” was a favorite.

“When I play with George, it’s like, ‘Oh, this is the bass. This is the guy who plays bass on all that stuff that guided me.’ I must have listened to the Meters every day for a year. Everybody should do that.

“And George is such a natural. He knows so many songs. He can sing most of them, too. And he’s good at taking charge, commanding the party. He steps up and makes it all happen.”

Despite Benevento’s love for New Orleans music, his own, often instrumental, music has a different sound.

“Most of my own music is sort of straight rock,” he said. “It doesn’t swing and it doesn’t have a funky thing about it. But it is experimental, with looping, drum machines, and the piano I play is hot-rodded through guitar amps.”

Be that as it may, “Do What She Told You,” a track on Benevento’s latest album, “TigerFace,” does show the influence of New Orleans piano.

“Yeah, you’ll hear it in there, and it’ll feel appropriate, it won’t feel wrong,” he said.

Benevento is also a fan of James Booker, the virtuosic New Orleans pianist who died nearly 30 years ago, just before his 44th birthday. Benevento and Vidacovich, who worked with Booker, have performed shows devoted to Booker’s music.

“No one has that sound like Booker,” he said. “I like his bounce. It’s a Booker feel that he should have patented.”