131: Ben Sidran
Musician, singer, writer, producer, philosopher... Ben Sidran is a hard person to define. He belongs in multiple categories, or none at all. He says that his main focus throughout a career that began 50 years ago has been to document what he saw, felt, and heard, by way of various “idioms” (including performances, interviews, essays, recordings, etc.). That’s why he sees himself primarily as a journalist. Or at least, he sees what he does as a form of journalism.
I’ve been engaged in a series of conversations - one long conversation really - with Ben Sidran since before I could really talk. We often pick up where we left off days, weeks or even years earlier, on any number of topics. So to conduct a formal interview with him is almost impossible for me. There’s simply too much history between us, because I know him so well, because we’ve been over it a hundred times before, because he’s my dad.
We’re more comfortable co-hosting, discussing, debating, having more open ended conversations. In fact, he has even co-hosted some episodes of this podcast with me. (Welcome To Copenhagen, Newport Jazz, The Election, What It Felt Like In Paris, and Remembering Tommy LiPuma). And we’ve worked together on musical projects since I was a boy. I’m proud to have produced his most recent records, toured and performed with him for over 20 years. We always just called it jamming. “Let’s jam,” we’d say.
On the occasion of his 76th birthday I decided to try for a more classic kind of long form interview. I wanted to know, how does it feel to be 76? Does it live up to his expectations? How has the world changed for him? How has he changed in the world? Of course, the conversation takes plenty of turns and twists, but we somehow managed to stay on task and the episode is a lot of fun.
Here he talks about falling in love with bebop as a young boy, counter culture in the 1960s, jazz as a form of journalism, how to get paid like a musician, his proudest moments, writing a misunderstood rock and roll anthem, getting to Carnegie hall, facing fears, and what he learned from his heroes (including Phil Woods, Art Blakey, and Mose Allison).
As a special birthday surprise gift to him, I wrote this song and published the video this week as well. It's a song about continuity, about memory, about desire, about family. I think it’s the most personal song I have ever written.