Marco Benevento was a high school senior when he discovered the Meters’ classic funk album, Look-Ka Py Py. New Orleans’ Meters and Benevento’s jazz studies at the Berklee School of Music formed his musical cornerstones.
Benevento usually performs a marathon of gigs during Jazz Fest. This year, because of the demands of career and family, the keyboardist and singer based in Woodstock, New York, is down to four shows—a pair of late-night performances at Tipitina’s and Blue Nile and two nights with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead at Mardi Gras World.
Benevento made his first trip to New Orleans 15 years ago, when he was half of a duo with Russo, the drummer he met during junior high school in New Jersey. In 2006, Benevento and Russo toured with Phish front man Trey Anastasio. Benevento later went solo. In 2014, he made his singing debut on his pop-oriented album Swift.
Why do you visit New Orleans every year during Jazz Fest?
The first year I went I played with New Orleans names like Stanton Moore and Johnny Vidacovich. It’s so welcoming and so awesome to play music down there. I feel like there’s no such thing as a wrong note in New Orleans.
How many gigs do you usually play in New Orleans during Jazz Fest?
I normally go for 10 days and play two or three gigs a day. I soak myself in the whole scene. But this year is just three nights of gigs. I’m married now and I have two kids, but, yeah, I had a good run.
How important were the Meters to your musical development?
When I was a senior in high school, I drove around listening to Look-Ka Py Py every day for a year. I’d heard funk stuff before but never anything like that. It was mind blowing. Best band ever.
From your keyboard-playing perspective, who’s your favorite keyboard player from New Orleans?
If someone says ‘New Orleans piano,’ I say ‘James Booker.’ He sounds like two people at the piano and he does it do it so effortlessly. And it’s joyful, creative, emotional and deep.
Booker was a charming vocalist, too. Why did you recently begin singing?
I hired Kalmia Traver, a singer in Rubblebucket, to sing two songs on my TigerFace album. When I heard my music with vocals and lyrics I really liked it. For my next album, Swift, I tried singing myself. Now our shows are one-half instrumental and the other half I sing a little bit. Music is a continual learning process. You can study it, play it your whole life. You’re never finished with it.
FRIDAY, MAY 4—TIPITINA’S, 2 A.M.
SUNDAY, MAY 6—BLUE NILE, 1 A.M.