“I’m a believer. It’s a spiritual thing. Especially in Puerto Rico, gospel music and Latin gospel music is big, there’s ministries all over the island”, says John Benítez, extraordinary Grammy-awarded bass player, talking about the early influence of gospel in his music.
“I like to live in the Word and the music, continues Benítez, quoting, “‘You are the light of the world’. So we are called to be a light for people.”
This vision has taken him to share his music in a special way, he says, describing his experiences as a Jazz Ambassador for the USIA and Kennedy Center, when he visited South America and interacted with “gamines”– homeless and abused street urchins who get involved in criminal activities and often sniff glue to tolerate hunger pangs.
Consequently, Benítez has created a project for his own non-profit organization, “Sembrarte” – to create cultural centers which will, as he puts it, “ …empower newer generations to become better citizens through all the related art forms.”
He explains that these ideas have developed over time: “As you get older you get involved in what really is the unity of this planet, what is needed and why we are here, as entertainers and musicians.”
His last album, quite appropriately, is called, “Purpose,” with a rendering of the beautiful Yagrumo, a tree from Puerto Rico, gracing its cover. Benítez speaks of how a musician’s purpose and the music connect, giving as an example a new piece, “The Gathering”. Benítez will showcase that composition in Chicago when he and his group perform at Navi-Jazz, an annual celebration of the importance of Puerto Rican and African American musical expressions in Puerto Rican cultural life.
“When we are in the gathering, there are things that happen at the moment when souls and minds get together listening. The sender and the receiver are in communication, and it goes both ways. It happens at the moment of creativity on the stage.” He concludes with a quiet passion, “ And that is why music cannot be stopped by politics, by any of the evil stuff, by financial challenges. You can’t stop music”.
IPRAC (The Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture) presents the John Benitez Group as part of the 4th Annual Navi-Jazz Event Dec. 7 at Roberto Clemente H.S. Auditorium.