The Magic of Ben McIver
Saxophonist opens Saturday Night Jazz Series at Seasons
Native son Ben McIver needs to perform more often. Not because he needs the practice, though he might tell you otherwise. Not because he's an excellent player, though he is. But so we can hear more of his elegant jazz compositions eloquently played.
You can catch the Ben McIver Quartet playing originals, new and old, and standards this Saturday on the rooftop patio at Seasons Rotisserie and Grill, with guitarist Lewis Wynn, bassist Dan Spanogle and drummer Rick Compton.
“My rule is to always hire the musicians that are twice as good as you,” says McIver, a big, unhurried man. “It really forces you not to show up with any bullshit.”
After 15 years away, McIver showed up in Albuquerque again in 2002. He had an economics degree from Morehouse in Atlanta and no interest in economics. He'd studied with jazz masters Reggie Workman and Charles Tolliver, among others, at The New School in New York, toured in Charli Persip's big band and learned that the road did not agree with him.
“I really saw myself as being part of this music in a different capacity, other than just what they call a gunslinger,” he says.
He planned to spend a couple months in Albuquerque getting his chops together and plotting his next move. While deciding where to go next, he rediscovered his hometown.
Today, McIver serves as assistant director of the New Mexico Jazz Workshop, spreading the jazz gospel. “It's a mission I love,” he says.
At the workshop, in the shower—just about anywhere—McIver pursues another love. “Just always composing,” he says. “That seems to be my talent, more so than anything else.”
He pulls influences from a diverse musical background that stretches from classical through hip-hop, but what informs all of his work is a conversational quality that pulls the listener in, a roominess that allows players to stretch out, and genuine emotional content.
Emotional integrity also drives his playing. “The magic part of [playing] is ... you have to sing. I was always enamored of Marvin Gaye, who doesn't necessarily have the best voice, but you can't beat him for any type of feeling. I try to remember that in my playing. Instead of playing something technically amazing, I get my inspiration basically from taking a breath and listening to the band and giving them what they give me.”