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It’s raining men

Trumpeter/vocalist Benny Benack III leads a lineup of vocal talent Friday at "Nighthawks," a fundraiser concert for the Summer Solstice Jazz Festival.
Courtesy Photo

UPDATE: Due to high demand, this concert has added a second performance at 9 p.m. Tickets to the 7 p.m. show are available here. Tickets for the 9 p.m. show are available here.

After two years of putting the spotlight on Greater Lansing’s female vocal talent, Ben Hall decided that it was time to highlight some male jazz singers at this year’s Summer Solstice Jazz Festival fundraiser.

“We have never done anything that was male-vocal focused,” said Hall. “I kind of feel that the men get overlooked a little bit in jazz music.”

This year’s fundraising concert, “Nighthawks,” features a roster of local and national vocalists. Hall, who is organizing the fundraiser, also coordinates the Summer Solstice Jazz Festival.

“The theme, the name of the fundraiser, is ‘Nighthawks,’ which is meant to touch on night life and the male jazz voice,” Hall said.

The concert’s headlining performer is Benny Benack III, a New York-based trumpeter/ vocalist. Benack, 25, is a rising star in the jazz world.

“Benny Benack he has won just about every jazz trumpet contest that’s out there,” Hall said. “He is extremely charismatic and a lot of fun to watch”

Benack, who grew up in Pittsburgh, comes from a long line of performers.

“I come from a very musical family,” Benack said. “My mother teaches voice at Carnegie Mellon, a top music theater program. My grandfather, the first Benny Benack, was a jazz trumpet player and my father, Benny Benack II, played saxophone. There is definitely a lineage in my family. I started playing very young.”

When it came time for Benny Benack III to pick an instrument, it was not a tough decision.

“In my case, the trumpet chose me,” Benack said. “We had all these trumpets of my grandfather’s laying around. My parents put his instruments in my hands, and I never looked back.”

Benack recently earned a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music. He’s already played famous jazz clubs like the Blue Note and Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, but he has a new goal in mind for this year.

“I am focusing on recording my first album as a solo artist,” Benack said. “It is an important step, because it announces to the world what you have to say musically.”

Benack is joined Friday by Greater Lansing singers Freddie Cunningham and Dee Hibbert. Hall, who recently competed at Memphis’ International Blues Challenge as half of blues duo Stan & Ben, will also sing a few numbers.

A quartet led by bassist Rodney Whitaker will provide the musical backdrop for Friday’s performers. Whitaker, who is director of MSU’s jazz studies program, is also artistic director of the Summer Solstice Jazz Festival.

“We are very fortunate to have (Whitaker) here,” Hall said. “He really is a local treasure. If people haven’t seen him, they need to get out and see.”

Benack performed at the Summer Solstice Jazz Festival in 2014 and is excited to be coming back to play with Whitaker.

“I grew up admiring Rodney and hearing him on recordings of trumpet players that I admired,” Benack said. “As far as the jazz world is concerned, Rodney Whitaker is one of the living legends of the bass.”


7 and 9 p.m. Friday, March 25 $30/$60 VIP Robin Theatre 1105 S. Washington Ave, Lansing (517) 319-6980, eljazzfest.com


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