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Ben Sidran: “If you can’t laugh at life, you’re through”

Ben Sidran
JB Milot
Ben Sidran

In a career spanning over 50 years and 35 records, Ben Sidran has established himself as a philosopher poet. Equally celebrated for his precise, probing writing style as he is for his improvised spoken word jazz raps, he has carved out a truly unique space for himself. The Times of London aptly described Ben as “the world’s first existential jazz rapper,” and The Chicago Sun Times once referred to him as “a renaissance man cast adrift in the modern world.” He is one of a kind. And he is, of course, also my dad.

There is no one else like Ben so it’s not uncommon for his fans and followers to search his songs for meaning in times of trouble. When the world is uncertain, many find comfort in the wisdom of his words. So it was curious when, during the COVID pandemic, Ben chose to make his first ever fully instrumental record in 2022, Swing State. It was as if he had finally run out of words, at least for that moment, and he chose to let his piano tell the story that he was unable to sing about.

But those of us who know Ben well understand that he’s never really out of words, so it was just a matter of time before he began to write again. And last summer we found ourselves back in a Parisian studio joined by a group of American and French musicians to make what would become his latest record, Rainmaker.

In many ways Rainmaker is just another in a long line of Ben’s records—a new collection of songs written in his particular style of hipster philosophy set against a backdrop of easily digestible grooves. On the other hand, he describes the process of making it as “wrestling with the devil.” The accumulation of political, environmental and personal conditions made this particular project resonate differently for him.

We spoke recently about the process of making Rainmaker, the stories behind the songs, his belief in the power of humor to help survive adverse situations, how Philip Roth’s retirement from writing affected him, whether or not he thinks retirement is truly possible for an artist, if this is in fact his last record, and what French rapper MC Solaar has to do with any of it.

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Leo Sidran is a Grammy winning multi-instrumentalist musician, producer, arranger, composer, recording artist and podcast host based in Brooklyn, New York.