Jazz rocker (SFWeekly) singer/songwriter/instrumentalist Ben Graves represents an eclectic history of musical experience; in high school in rural Tennessee he was a neo-folk/classical guitarist, a jazz saxophonist, and the lead singer in a band that would become the platinum-selling hard rock outfit Fuel. He attended Wesleyan University and Berklee College of Music (where he was awarded scholarships for both saxophone and voice) studying with avante-garde maverick Anthony Braxton, Ghanaian master-drummer Abraham Adzinyah and pop icon Billy Joel. After Berklee, Ben won an assistantship at Washington State University where he earned a master's degree in music and was recognized as an outstanding alto saxophonist at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival. After grad school, Graves found his way to San Francisco. From 1996 to 2003, he honed his craft, recording 2 original Cds and performing his original music in many of the Bay Area's hippest venues: the Fillmore, Great American Music Hall, Cafe du Nord, the Hotel Utah, Freight and Salvage, Sweetwater, and many others. In 2003, he moved to Nashville Tennessee, where he worked as a sideman with country artists Rebecca Lynn Howard, James Otto, Amy Dalley, among others. He spent most of 2005 doing administrative work for the New York Philharmonic in Manhattan and taking part in the New York scene before returning to Nashville, where he remains active as a session musician, performing songwriter, sideman, and educator.
Ben is a true multi-instrumentalist; he's jammed on guitar and harmonica with Lyle Lovett and Nanci Griffith, played electric bass with Kid Rock and at the Grand Ole Opry, and has blown saxophone with Modern Jazz Quartet bassist Percy Heath, Late Show drummer Anton Fig, and tons of people you've never heard of. His voice-over and instrumental skills have contributed to dozens of jingles and original recordings.
His CD, Memphis, has been played on over 300 radio stations worldwide, and in the summer of 2002, charted top 30 at some 50 stations, such as WTSR Ewing, NJ (#3), WNYK Nyack, NY (#10), and WUIC Chicago (#14). Memphis features the contributions of pros such as drummer Scott Amendola, keyboardist Rob Burger (Tin Hat Trio, Norah Jones), and bassist Lee Alexander (Norah Jones). Rosalie Howarth of San Francisco's KFOG called it "very, very good"; "excellent CD," said KRZA in Colorado; and "a great, great disc," said music director Sean Wilson of WTSR.
Live chronicles the Ben Graves duo's 4-year Thursday night steady at SF's vibey cocktail lounge, Tonic. Live showcases Graves' writing, baritone guitar work, and live loops (amidst the clinking beer glasses and bar banter), in the liberating context of a 'rock duet' featuring Jim Kassis or Darian Gray on drums. The first CD from the Ben Graves trio, Crazy Italians, included the cut "Princess Grace," which was featured on the Performing Songwriter magazine 1999 CD sampler showcasing their picks for the top 12 unsigned independent releases. Critic Russell Hall of Performing Songwriter called Crazy Italians "consistently fresh and inventive," and "intelligent pop music--tightly crafted songs that lend themselves well to improvisation in a live setting."
And improvise he does. Musing Americana as a songwriter, Ben embraces the jazz ethic of keeping the performance loose enough so that almost anything can happen, and nothing sounds stale. Solo, or in the company of other fine musicians, Ben Graves weaves his unique harmony and soulful voice into a truly original tapestry that is at once innovative, informed, and inspired.