Lakecia Benjamin on a Heavy Year, the Healing Power of Music, and Breaking In Jazzfest Berlin

Nov 4, 2020

Lakecia Benjamin hasn’t played with a band since mid-March. 

A saxophonist and bandleader unmistakably on the rise, she admits being hesitant to step outside of her protective bubble. But on Friday morning she’ll lead a group at Roulette in Brooklyn, to kick off Jazzfest Berlin—New York.

They’ll perform music from Pursuance: The Coltranes, which Benjamin released in late March, admist a busy touring schedule. Buzz around the album had been building for months, and the accolades poured in. All the savings she invested in the album seemed to be paying off.

Of course her album tour, like so many other plans, was derailed by the coronavirus pandemic. And in the weeks to come, she experienced the loss of jazz legends and some of her peers. Social unrest around the country also hit her especially hard after the death of a young man named Dominique Alexander in Fort Tryon Park, near her childhood neighborhood in Washington Heights. (Alexander was found hanging from a tree; the medical examiner ruled his death a suicide, a decision met with widespread skepticism.)  

In the face of it all, Benjamin says it’s the artist’s responsibility to stay strong and provide inspiration. On this episode of The Checkout, she reflects on her year of highs and lows, her perception of how America is dealing with the pandemic, and the healing power of John and Alice Coltrane.

Lakecia Benjamin performs 10 a.m. ET on Friday at Roulette in Brooklyn, with Charenee Wade on vocals, Zaccai Curtis on piano, Lonnie Plaxico on bass and Darrell Green on drums; watch the livestream here.

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