NYC Native Lakecia Benjamin on Bringing Jazz to the Youth
Growing up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, Lakecia Benjamin first picked up the saxophone at age 11—and that was always the only instrument for her.
“As a kid, you know, I was drawn to the appeal and shininess,” she said. As she focused on the saxophone in her youth, Lakecia’s teachers were often working jazz musicians who would perform in the city, including Wessell Anderson, Gary Bartz, Steve Wilson, Vincent Herring, and Reggie Workman. Through them, she was introduced to a wide range of other jazz musicians including Greg Osby, Wynton Marsalis, Nicholas Payton, Sam Rivers, and Steve Coleman, among others—further influencing her future in jazz.
Fast forward and Lakecia has become that musician—performing and recording with her group SoulSquad and still taking time to teach and mentor students in New York City through Jazz at Lincoln Center.
“It’s definitely a passion of mine,” she said, especially because of the impact that her teachers had on her growing up. “When you’re young, this is the time when your creativity is most open. [Young people are] open to any path and are still trying to figure out where they’re going.” In addition to teaching at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Lakecia also works with students through private lessons and, as part of BRIC JazzFest, she will be leading educational workshops for students at BRIC.
Performing for students is always an exciting experience, she said, because of the way they experience the music differently from more adult audiences. They don’t have the same background and might not be as familiar with music from the 1920s—or even the 1980s, she said. “Where they feel the beat and where they feel the music...it’s a different place [compared to adults.]”
Beyond the educational workshops, Lakecia will also be performing at BRIC JazzFest Marathon Night 1 on Thursday, October 18, and fans can expect an energetic performance that also touches on important topics of the day. But Lakecia is quick to say the performance will be a “huge jamming party…I put an upbeat spin on issues, rather than simmer in darkness.”
One example of the upbeat nature of Lakecia Benjamin and SoulSquad is the recent album Rise Up, which came out in March 2018, five years after Lakecia's sister passed away.
“I wanted to honor her and pay homage to the positive things she taught me,” Lakecia explained. “Rise Up was like her motto and each track of the album is dedicated to a different side of her.” The album features guest vocals from China Moses, Jaime Woods, Solomon Dorsey, and more, and Lakecia collaborated with, as she says, “the full squad” to bring the work to life. (See the full album credits here.)
As a saxophonist, Lakecia has collaborated with many legends, performing and recording with Clark Terry, Anita Baker, Keyshia Cole, The Roots, Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder, and many more; and producing with hip hop legends such as Big Daddy Kane and DJ Premier. But in the world of jazz, more collaborations are always on the horizon.
When asked about who she would like to collaborate with in the future, Lakecia said she has always wanted to work with Sting and would love to partner with Kendrick Lamar. “And I have a Kenny Loggins fetish,” she added, “so working with him and Michael McDonald.” In the jazz world, she called out jazz vibraphonist Stefon Harris—who coincidentally will also be performing at BRIC JazzFest on October 18.
See Lakecia Benjamin & SoulSquad (and Stefon Harris) at BRIC JazzFest Marathon Night 1 on Thursday, October 18 at BRIC House. Tickets on sale now!
BRIC JazzFest Presenting Sponsor: Compass