Jazz Piano Legend Ben Sidran is the Original Hipster

July 2, 2014    

ben sidran

By Amie Watson

Ben Sidran has seen the inside of a lot of jazz clubs over the years. His song, “Don’t Cry for No Hipster” sounds like a smooth jazz standard in the style of John Coltrane. The album it comes from adds a bunch of Tower of Power funk and clean vocals. You can’t hear in his voice the more than three decades of smoky clubs and late-night recording sessions with greats including Diana Ross, Van Morrison, and Dizzy Gillespie.

“When young becomes old, and cool turns to cold, that’s when we’ll see if that truth set him free,” he sings, as shimmering brushes start a swung backing rhythm on the cymbals. He’s not singing about the kids in oversized sunglasses, skinny jeans and beards. Instead, he’s talking about the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s hipsters. He’s singing about lovers of art, literature, and jazz. He’s singing about himself.

Hipster-dom, both new and old—the original was the post-prohibition era, fun-loving, hipflask-wearing, “now-or-never” Americans—is about having an original style while consuming modern culture and respecting the past. In the 1960s, Sidran and his fellow hipsters loved jazz. “By the end of the ‘60s everybody wanted to be a musician, to find a style, and to connect to a richer tradition,” he says.

But it’s modern hipsters who show up at his shows, in addition to an older crowd who had Coltrane on LP before Braids thought records were cool.

Young hipsters come to his shows to hear new music in the classic jazz style of “standards”—music so well known that any jazz student could play them at the drop of a hat—but written by an original hipster fifty years after the inauguration of the style. It’s new old music and completely authentic.

His music is food for the soul, says Sidran. “The ‘50s was really about romance. The ‘60s was love. The ‘70s was sex. But the ‘80s and ‘90s were about violence. Rap, machine-driven music and even some pop music are all about the money. They’re like candy—no nourishment.” His music is for anyone who likes to laugh and swing, he says, and for those who have some romance left.

Jazz music is all about your sound, Sidran explains. “People know Miles Davis and John Coltrane, but my favourite trumpet player was Blue Mitchell and he had this wonderful, warm, open sound and you could hear two or three notes of him and say, ‘It’s Blue Mitchell.’”

Once you have a sound, says Sidran, you can play any standard and make it your own. You can even record an entire album of Bob Dylan covers, which is what he did in 2009.

If hipster-dom is about nostalgia, then Sidran has a lot to look back on with regards to the business of music. It’s tougher now for kids to make it, he says. But he got lucky. He can’t even think of musician he hasn’t already performed with or produced an album for that he’d like to work with in the future. From the penning of Steve Miller’s “Space Cowboy” to the day Diana Ross of the Supremes called him out of the blue to record her 1990’s album, “The Lady Sings Jazz and Blues,” to interviewing over 60 jazz greats on his national radio show “Sidran on Record,” he’s always had the freedom to devote his life to music.

But the kids have the vim and vigour, he says. Finding the motivation to create gets harder when you get older, even if your chops are finely tuned. “So you have to wake up every morning and say, ‘Today I want to make music,’ and go do it.”

Guess you did that this morning because we’ll see you tonight.

Ben Sidran is playing at the Montreal Jazz Festival at Upstairs Jazz Bar on Wednesday and Thursday, July 2nd and 3rd at 7:00 p.m. and 9:45 p.m.

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