Ben Wendel to start Athenaeum winter jazz series

The rising saxophonist and his band play Wednesday at intimate venue La Jolla, which will also host Billy Childs, Kevin Hays & New York Standards Quartet

By George Varga
JAN. 20, 2015
New York-based saxophonist, bassoonist and melodica player Ben Wendel and his quartet will open the Athenaeum’s winter jazz concert series with a Wednesday night concert.

They will be followed by pianist Kevin Hays and his New Day Trio on Feb. 6. Fellow pianist Billy Childs, a three-time Grammy Award-winner, performs Feb. 13 with his quartet, which features noted saxophonist Steve Wilson. The series concludes Feb. 19 with the San Diego debut of the New York Standards Quartet, whose rhythm section features former Herbie Hancock and Dave Holland drummer Gene Nelson.

Tickets are available for all four concerts at the Athenaeum, which last year celebrated its 25th anniversary of presenting top jazz talents from around the world.

Wendel, 38, was born in Canada, grew up in Los Angeles and now resides in New York. Noted for his probing musical approach and deft improvisational skills, he is adept in numerous musical settings.

His past credits include concert tours with Prince and Snoop Dogg, and recordings with Oceanside Grammy winner Jason Mraz, veteran Brazilian vocalist Dori Caymmi, Mexican singing star Marco Antonio Solis and rising jazz pianist Taylor Eigsti. In addition, he served as the conductor for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Charlie Parker tribute concert, "Bird with Strings," which featured San Diego sax great Charles McPherson as the principal soloist.

Wendel is also a key member of Kneebody, a Grammy-nominated band that fuses jazz, funk and rock with aplomb. A former Adjunct Professor of Jazz Studies at USC, he now teaches at The New School in Manhattan.

While tenor sax is his main instrument, Wendel is one of the few jazz saxophonists around who can also negotiate a bassoon with similar skill. "Backbou," a standout song from his 2012 Sunnyside Records' album, "Frame," offers impressive evidence of his agility on the bassoon, an instrument not usually noted as a vehicle for improvisational explorations.

As his unusually varied résumé indicates, Wendel is adept with a variety of styles. What is notable about his own music is his ability to mix and match seemingly disparate elements with sufficient imagination and finesse to make everything cohere. His debut here as an Athenaeum headliner should be a memorable one.

Ben Wendel Quartet, featuring Taylor Eigsti, Harish Raghavan & Eric Harland

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 21

Where: Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, 1008 Wall Street, La Jolla

Tickets: $21-$26 (series tickets are also available)

Phone: (858) 454-5872