Saxophonist Bennett gets to jazz charts

Eli Bennett, jazz saxophonist. Eli Bennett, jazz saxophonist.
By Mahnoor Yawar

Home is where the heart is. For jazz saxophonist Eli Bennett, that just happens to be the Humber Recording Studio at Lakeshore.

The Vancouver resident graduated from the Humber Music program in 2011 and came back to record his debut album Breakthrough in the state-of-the-art Humber Recording Studio that he had become so familiar with.

“When my father brought me home from the hospital (after I was born), my room was in his studio. So literally from my second day, I was listening to him work on movie scores,” said Bennett.

He grew up homeschooled in the studio where his father, award-winning film composer and producer Daryl Bennett, worked.

It was here that he first picked up the saxophone at age 11. Though he wasn’t sure  he would stick with it, everything changed when his father played him a jazz recording of Michael Brecker.

“As soon as I heard it, I knew I wanted to be exactly like Brecker,” said Bennett. “I began practicing eight hours a day for a number of years.”

In the three short months since its release, Breakthrough peaked at Number three on the Canadian jazz chart, and was ranked the fourth best debut album of 2014 by the Ottawa Citizen.

It also peaked at Number 14 on the U.S. jazz charts and was a featured album on the Canadian iTunes Store.

Denny Christianson, director of Humber’s Music program and Bennett’s former mentor, recalls discovering the young prodigy as part of a student all-star band in Vancouver.

“By the age of 15 or 16, it was already evident he had a special gift. He was one of the most highly sought students in Canada,” said Christianson.

Bennett went on to attend Humber on a full scholarship and still credits faculty for many of the great opportunities that presented themselves to him.

“I do consider my years at Humber, and pursuing an education there, some of the most pivotal years of my musical development,” he said.

His debut record Breakthrough stands as a testament to those years, combining Bennett’s unique sound with his journey as a musician.

“Stylistically, in terms of writing, I draw on different influences throughout my career: jazz, funk grooves, and even some pop thrown in there, some soul music,” Bennett said. “I needed my own sound – something that hasn’t been done before – so that when people listen to my debut album, they know it’s me just by listening.

Kirk MacDonald, who also served as a faculty advisor to Bennett during his time at Humber, and who praised Bennett’s growth as an artist, produced his album.

“I can’t think of too many students that had the kind of work ethic that Eli had,” he said. “That combined with his vision, his talent and his determination really set him apart.”

Christianson, especially, exuded pride at the success Bennett is courting.

“I’ve known all along he had an extraordinary career ahead. His talent is right off the charts,” he said. “He’s not only one of the most talented performers I’ve worked with, but also a wonderful, warm, caring person.”

Bennett said he was already in the initial stages of working on a follow-up to his debut. If this record is any indication, Bennett may as well call success his new home.