Eric Benet longs to savor moment with audience
Among the most awaited performers at this year’s Seoul Jazz Festival is Eric Benet, the 47-year-old American R&B singer known for hits like “Last Time,” “Sometimes I Cry,” and most of all “Spend My Life with You” featuring Tamia that became a No. 1 hit on the U.S. Billboard R&B chart.
Though commercial success of his next releases did not match the duet’s record in 1999, Benet has been active in recording, performing and even acting ever since.
His self-penned love songs have been hits with Korean ballad singers like Sung Shi-kyung and Kim Bum-soo to name a few, who covered them in their concerts or TV performances and introduced the tracks to the wider audience.
His popularity here has brought him to Seoul twice before, in 2009 and last year.
Q : You're coming to Korea as a part of a jazz music festival.
A: Last few times I have been to Korean had been pretty incredible. Very enthusiastic crowd. They seem to very appreciate R&B music. So it is going to be lots of fun.
Q: What is your relationship with jazz? What kind of influences have you had from it? Who are the favorite jazz artists of yours?
A: I was influenced by jazz quite a bit. I grew up listening to many different kinds of genre of music from very early childhood. Jazz, Jazz fusion, rock, classical, gospel but yeah quite a bit of Jazz growing up in my home. My favorite jazz artist … it is hard to choose but if I have to narrow it down, I’d say Thelonious Monk. He was more of Be Bop Jazz artist. He was just extremely, almost completely experimental. And his creativity and he really pushed the envelope of the genre.
Probably him and Charlie Parker … amazing the emotion you can feel in a horn play. They played together are some of my favorites.
Q: You're performing with Earth, Wind & Fire (EWF). To describe them in your own words…
A: Earth, Wind & Fire has been a quite a staple in my musical development. Even from early age, I could hear on an EWF album that it wasn’t about singles. It was about an entire journey, about the whole project from start to finish. It was a complete experience compared to an album with a single here and a single there. Especially exciting for a musician, or a little boy who wanted to grow up to be a musician like me, because there was so much musicianship in their music. Instrumentation was just whole another level. (I found) recordings for the arrangements to be very evolved and musicians to be not only amazing but also able to contribute to be overall construction of the arrangements.
Q: Seems like dance music are the craze at the moment. Where does your music stand? Are you influenced by the sound of these times?
A: I like to think of myself as evolving, really subject to the trends of the time. A lot of dance music today are not for me. Some of them are… Even the electronic aspect of the music of today, you can still there can be room for groove and human elements even within the electronically sequenced dance tracks. Those are the ones that I like. The ones so over the top electronic, avoiding any human involvement, emotions are the one I tend not to dig so much.
Q: When you record and when you perform, what are the most important elements for you?
A: When I perform, it is about the moment, the communication between me and the audience. Being completely uninhibited, free and flowing from the audiences to me being in control. Amazingly powerful and incredible feeling. Deep within the artistic frustration. Conveying an inner heart voice to music is quite a bit of frustration. Labor intensity is like brain surgery. But at the end of the session, it is the rewarding feeling worth every bit of frustration. It is an itch that you cannot reach till you just get it right.
Q: Many young people in Korea look up to soulful voices like yours when they train to become singers. How do you react to that? What would be your advice to the hopefuls?
A: It is extremely flattering and I thank you. Continue to work on the craftsmanship. There's always someone better than you. The difference between success and failure is the persistence of working on your craft and trying always to be better.