An improbable combination of the old masters’ deep, impetuous sound on one hand and a nearly avant garde approach to phrasing and intervals on the other, Bennie Wallace has been hailed by the New York Arts Journal as "the most important reed player since Dolphy’s and Coleman’s startling work in the early sixties." In January 1999, Downbeat Magazine described Wallace as "a modernist who understands the past." Wallace possesses an uncommon knowledge of the music of his predecessors- Not just Dolphy, Coltrane, and Coleman, but their mentors as well; Wallace has spent a great deal of time studying such earlier saxophone masters as Hawkins, Johnny Hodges, Ben Webster, and Don Byas. Assimilating much of the history of his instrument, he has remolded it into a unique personal style that defies easy categorization. It is a style that, while reflecting its heritage, is yet fresh sounding and contemporary. Wallace's tone is full and resonant, whether articulating a post-bop expressionism or a quiet romanticism. His prodigious technique is indispensable to an approach that at fast tempos explores the extremes of the instrument with virtuosic arpeggios, scales, and melodic fragments, but on ballads transforms into a warm, often delicate, lyricism. A robust soulfulness is yet a third aspect of the Wallace conception. Wallace's music is mostly tonal and harmonically oriented, and he favors improvising in relation to the melody of a piece rather than simply on its chord structure. "When I learn a tune, I learn the melody in all keys, and I'll spend more time doing that than on anything else," Wallace says.
Bennie Wallace the composer complements Wallace the performer. While Wallace's written music reflects many of the myriad streams of twentieth-century composition - including the French Impressionists and American classical composers, as well as Ellington and Strayhorn and such songwriters as Gershwin, Porter, and Kern - it, like his playing, is also informed by improvising jazz musicians, from Armstrong to the present. "The composition becomes a part of the playing, with my compositions quite often coming from my playing," Wallace says. Indeed, Wallace considers film composing to be a contributing factor to his continuing growth as a jazz musician. "The two activities feed off of each other. In researching music and learning the techniques of film writing, I've learned things that have changed my jazz playing. And, of course, the things I do as a jazz musician are at the core of what I'm about as a film composer."
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