Ben (he/him), a Portland native, has been playing professionally in Portland since around 2009 and teaching since 2014. He attended Portland State University, graduating with a degree in jazz piano in 2016. He has toured nationally with Curtis Salgado and Dirty Revival. You might recognize his voice: he’s also been a host on KMHD since 2011. Lessons with Ben focus on technique, theory, improvisation, and building a repertoire.
What age were you when you first started taking music lessons?
Tell us about an early music lessons experience that helped shape you as a musician or teacher:
I started studying organ with Louis Pain when I was about 9 years old. My parents cornered him after a performance at the Mt. Hood Jazz Festival and asked if he’d teach me. He said yes. I learned many things from him that I still use every time I play music – and later realized just how cool it was that he decided to take me on as a student when I was that young.
What are your favorite bands or musicians?
Tower of Power – the incredible pocket of that rhythm section! Organize Chester Thompson is still one of the most unique players who beautifully straddles funk, jazz, gospel, and rock.
Teddy Wilson – when I first heard him playing piano as Billie Holiday’s accompanist, I thought, “this is the sound I want.” It’s a little old-timey, but not ragtime; more progressive than swing, but not bepop, and always seemingly effortless.
Jonny Costa – the pianist for Mister Rogers Neighborhood. I went back and listened to his playing after I’d learned more about jazz and how to listen to it, and was floored. He was an incredible virtuoso who also presented his music in such an approachable, listenable way.
Herbie Hancock – I didn’t know keyboards could sound as cool as they do on the Head Hunters recordings.
Maceo Parker – funk saxaphonist who played with James Brown for years. His rhythmic feel is crushing. His note choices are almost minimalist, but it works so well. I have seen him live several times, and stay happy for weeks afterward.
Others I don’t have room to dig into: Chet Baker, Jimmy McGriff, Hank Jones, Barry Harris, KING, The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, Snarky Puppy, Aretha Franklin, Rush, and Carly Rae Jepsen (yes, that is 100% serious).
Do you have a highlight of your music career so far that you would like to share?
Getting flown to Florida to open for Buddy Guy with Curtis Salgado, briefly sharing a keyboard with Ivan Neville at Waterfront Blues Fest, playing piano for Dr. Barry Harris (without angering him), and meeting Seal on Celebrity Undercover Boss with Dirty Revival.
Describe your ideal student.
My ideal student is invested, engaged, and psyched about music! My strongest points are theory, jazz, and improvisation – so I have the most to offer to a student who wants to pursue those areas.
Describe what your students should expect in their first few music lessons.
Talking about what music you like. Although you can’t love every song you work on, it sure helps to be excited about what you’re learning. I also want to see where a student is at on the piano – can you read music? Write it? Have you seen chord symbols before? Do you know any scales? Just so I know where to start.
Why did you want to become a music teacher?
Initially, it kind of fell into my lap – but it feels so rewarding to see a student “get it” and start to really come together as a musician. It wasn’t so long ago that I didn’t even play piano; I remember the first couple years were not easy, but the patience and compassion of my teachers made me stick with it.