Dave Bennett grew up in a fairly typical American household. Like a lot of other kids, he dutifully enrolled in band and played music throughout his high school years.

But unlike most of his music-playing peers, Bennett took what began as a casual interest in music and turned it into something completely different.

Bennett, 27, brings his band to Merrill Auditorium this weekend to sit in with the Portland Symphony Orchestra for a Pops! tribute to the smooth, swinging rhythms of Benny Goodman (1909-86).

A clarinet player, Bennett fell in love with Goodman’s music as soon as he heard it. He has made a career interpreting the King of Swing’s music.

“I just couldn’t believe it the first time I heard it,” he said by phone from his home in Michigan. “It just grabbed me. It made an impression — a huge impression. There was something very intense, passionate and emotional that I heard in Benny’s music.”

Although Bennett took music lessons growing up, he considers himself to be a self-taught musician. “I learned the music that I play now by ear,” he said. “I started doing that right off the bat, but it was a very slow process in the beginning.

“My grandpa bought me a clarinet, basically to give me a hobby. Around the same time, he bought me a cassette tape of Benny Goodman, because he thought it would be cool for me to hear what the instrument really sounds like.”

Smitten with swing, Bennett sought out Goodman’s music on CD so he could better stop and start the music. When he found a refrain he liked, he paused the CD and tried to recreate the sound on his own horn. “After you do that every day, you train your ear. That’s how I taught myself,” he said.

The PSO Pops! program will include such big-band classics as “I Got Rhythm,” “Sing, Sing, Sing” and “Let’s Dance.” The guest conductor for the program is Teresa Cheung, music director and conductor of the Altoona Symphony Orchestra in Pennsylvania, as well as resident conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra in New York City and Bard College Orchestra in New York.

Bennett is traveling as part of a six-piece band, which will accompany the orchestra.

“We do quite a few shows as a stand-alone band, but these orchestra concerts have become quite popular. We’ve done quite a few of them, especially lately. It’s been a prosperous year for us so far,” he said.

Bennett’s interest in the music of the swing era may seem odd, given that he’s such a young man himself. But for whatever reason, he’s always been interested in music from earlier eras. In addition to Goodman, he cites Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis as among his favorite musicians. He likes some current music too.

“Oh, there are a lot of good things going on today, but you don’t often hear them on the radio,” he said. “But if there was any decade of time that would be my favorite, it would be the ’50s. There was just something about it.

“By that point, swing was still there and still pretty big. But then you had the birth of rock ‘n’ roll and doo-wop music. It was a very exciting time, with a lot happening musically.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes


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