Artist Spotlight : Ben Doherty

Pat Brooks

Jazz saxophonist Ben Doherty was drawn to improvisation when he saw live jazz for the first time. “I remember being extremely fascinated by the spontaneity. I couldn’t understand how people could play these awesome things out of nowhere,” he said.Doherty started to play saxophone in fifth grade, picking up a horn his brother had previously abandoned. The summer between 10th and 11th grade, Doherty’s interest in being a musician solidified when he went to a six-week jazz camp where he met Fred Sturm, who encouraged Doherty to come to Lawrence.

Doherty says his jazz world was expanded after coming to college. “Before Lawrence, I only listened to bebop,” he said. “The first time I heard [trumpeter] Dave Douglas and [saxophonist] Chris Potter, I wondered what the hell was going on.”

As his musical sensibilities continue to mature, Doherty offers some simple advice to anyone who hasn’t acquired a taste for more “unorthodox” jazz: “You have to give it time, just let it soak in.”

The improvisational philosophy Doherty subscribes to seems to be centered on an organic approach that has an underlying logic to it.

“My goal every time I play is to play something that makes sense musically. At any moment I could be focusing on taking one particular aspect like rhythm, intervals, intensity, or timbre, and trying to do something logical with it,” Doherty explained.

“If the music gets louder I might play higher, or I might change something texturally to suit it,” he added. But Doherty discourages too cerebral of an approach. “Ideally,” he said, “I just try not to think of anything while I’m playing.”

While at Lawrence, Doherty has seized some golden opportunities, including going on tour with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Said Doherty, “I was starting to get burned out on music, and by dumb luck I landed an international tour with the GMO. I came back feeling great.”

Doherty also reflected on some of the more interesting aspects of touring.
“One time, after we played in Japan, there were about 15 middle school girls waiting outside our bus. When we came out they all started yelling and cheering — I felt like Justin Timberlake,” he said.

Doherty’s favorite musical experience to date was playing Maria Schneider’s music in LUJE under her direction. He admires her music greatly and considers her to be among today’s musical trendsetters.

“I see the future of jazz being influenced by more structured compositional elements, moving away from the head-solos-head variety, a trend which I think is already happening,” he said.

Doherty has a senior recital November 28 at 8 p.m. in Harper Hall. The program consists of both classical and jazz music, including a piece written by Doherty for an octet.