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CSO Mixtape: Benn Sutcliffe

Benn Sutcliffe playing saxophone

Benn Sutcliffe, CSO Saxophone / Clarinet (Image: Murray Foote)

Benn Sutcliffe studied classical saxophone with Tony Hicks and Ian Godfrey at the Victorian College of the Arts, graduating in 2001. He has since enjoyed a varied career as a woodwind multi-instrumentalist, recording and performing on over a dozen woodwind instruments across an even larger spectrum of styles.

His performances credits include the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Victoria, Olivia Newton-John, Tom Burlinson, Rhonda Burchmore, TV broadcasts (including Dancing With The Stars, It Takes Two and Carols By Candlelight) and professional theatre productions including Hello Dolly, Damn Yankees, Guys and Dolls, Follies, West Side Story and The Candy Man. More about Benn

Selected listening notes

This mixtape is a collection of recordings I go back to time and time again – great sounds, songs, bands, solos and compositions. They all have, and tell, a story.

BENN SUTCLIFFE

AL JARREAU & KATHLEEN BATTLE My Favourite Things

Recorded live in the studio in 1993, Al Jarreau’s Tenderness album is an incredible selection of songs and musicians. Jarreau and Kathleen Battle work wonderfully together on this track.

This track also features Michael Brecker on tenor saxophone with what I think is one of the most perfectly constructed live solos I’ve heard. His balance of melodic restraint and sheer virtuosity is matched only the inimitable Steve Gadd on drums.

Sadly, the world lost Michael Brecker to cancer in 2007, aged 58. Whenever I hear this song, I recall with fondness and sadness his absolute musical mastery, humility and his constant quest to become better than he already was.

CANNONBALL ADDERLEY Stars Fell on Alabama

Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley is my favourite alto player; Stars fell on Alabama is my favourite Cannonball track. For many, Cannonball is the template for the modern jazz alto sound. Everything he played was drenched in joy, optimism, the blues and his beautiful, lyrical tone.

WEBER Clarinet Concerto No. 1 Second movement

Clarinet players seem to fall into either the ‘Weber 1’ or ‘Weber 2’ camp. I prefer the former – maybe because it’s the one I first heard and learnt – but I’ve always adored Sabine Meyer’s recording of both concertos.

This movement of Weber’s first concerto is stunningly beautiful, full of lyricism and drama.

ELLA FITZGERALD Miss Otis Regrets

This song always moves me close to tears. Ella’s ability to capture the absolute tragedy of this tune is profound. If I had to choose a desert island record, Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book would be on the shortlist.

ARVO PÄRT Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten
GIYA KANCELLI Night Prayers For Soprano Saxophone and String Orchestra

I heard both these works for the first time at the same concert – I’ve always associated them with each other and they pair so well. It was the first time I’d heard anything by Arvo Pärt and I’ve loved his music ever since.

Night Prayers by Georgian composer Giya Kancelli is easily my favourite ‘classical’ saxophone work. Originally written for the Kronos Quartet, Night Prayers is the fourth work in Kancelli’s cycle A Life Without Christmas. It was later rewritten by the composer for string orchestra and soprano saxophone (played here by Jan Gabarek).

The piece is a haunting and dark tale that (to me) evokes the tragedy and suffering of life under the Soviet regime. A bleak sadness underpins everything in this piece, as it builds towards an intensely dramatic peak at 15 minutes, 30 seconds. From this harmonic maelstrom the voice of a boy soprano eventually emerges, singing ‘Lord, hear my voice, Lord’ before the piece calms under a cloud of fear. No happy ending on this one…

CANNONBALL ADDERLEY Easy to Love

After the dread of Kancelli I always need some joy. Joy is Cannonball Adderley!

I didn’t want to include two tracks by one artist but this one is just incredible for me. Completely different to Stars Fell on Alabama, this is a live tour de force of fierce swing, sound and improvisation.

TOWER OF POWER Down to the Nightclub

Live and in Living Colour was the first Tower of Power album I heard. I was awestruck from the get go; I’d never heard anything like it. The opening track of the album, this tune is a TOP classic.

The band is still going after 40 years in the music business and they’re still seriously funky.

HARRY CONNICK JUNIOR Time after Time

When I first heard this recording, I thought, in the opening, ‘What the hell is Harry doing?’ – but the fragments of melody become more and more obvious as it reaches the final showdown. There’s some serious swing going on here and Roger Ingram’s lead trumpet playing is, as always, awesome.

PAQUITO D’RIVERA Tico Tico

Paquito = joy. Plain and simple. To see Paquito play is to witness someone who derives so much happiness from music he cannot contain it.

DARIUS MILHAUD La Creation du Monde

This is on my bucket list for orchestral repertoire – I’ve never played it, nor is it programmed often. While I’m not really a fan of Branford Marsalis’ more recent classical saxophone offerings, his sound on this recording, from his earlier days of exploring the genre, is more suited to this style than many other saxophonists I’ve heard. I imagine it’s closer to what Milhaud would’ve been hearing from saxophone players at the time.

NIRVANA Where did you sleep last night

I loved Nirvana as a teenager, much to my parent’s disgust, and I still do. The final track on Unplugged in New York, this song represents everything that was great about Kurt Cobain – raw emotion and an untrained, untempered vocal delivery that captures the song perfectly.

Curator profile: Benn Sutcliffe

Briefly introduce yourself – tell us your name, your instrument, where you’re living and how you’re connected to the CSO.

Hi, I’m Benn – I’m a saxophone and clarinet player. I teach saxophone and clarinet at Marist College Canberra, where I also direct the Clarinet and Saxophone Ensembles, and I’ve been playing with the CSO since 2011. I live in Canberra with my wife, CSO bassoonist Kristen Sutcliffe, and our two children, James and Annie.

How did you come to be a musician?

My grandfather was a professional musician who played saxophone and clarinet in radio orchestras and, later, television bands, in Melbourne. As a kid, I listened to all of his recordings from his days in the ABC Melbourne Showband. I fell in love with the music of the swing era and started playing clarinet at age 11 and saxophone at 13. I haven’t stopped since!

Tell us a bit about someone who had a formative influence on you in your creative development.

In my first year at the Victorian College of the Arts, I studied saxophone with Tony Hicks. To this day, he has probably been the most significant influence on my approach to playing, and particularly, my teaching.

At the time, much of what he said didn’t make much sense at all, but in the years following my university study I realised the brilliance of his teaching. He is a such a superb player across the saxophone, clarinet and flute families and his constant dedication to improving and learning is inspiring.

What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?

Do what you want to do, not what you think you should, would or could.

Describe your best and worst gigs.

The best would be Melbourne’s Carols By Candlelight. Looking out on 10,000+ people and seeing the Meyer Music Bowl lit up like that was amazing.

The worst? There are only so many times you can play Les Miserables

Name three places in Canberra that hold some significance for you.

The Old Bus Depot Markets, the National Arboretum and Lake Burley Griffin – all places I love to go with my family and just hang out.

What’s something you love doing that has nothing to do with music?

I’ve been a keen gardener for some years now. I also love cooking – the kitchen is my favourite room in our house.

Name three people you’d like to invite to dinner, living or dead.

Barack Obama, Richard Gill and Costa Georgiadis.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in the past year?

Take nothing for granted.

Are you a cat person or a dog person?

I’m a dog person. Cats are weird.

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