Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Maupin, Bennie

As a participant in both Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew sessions and in Herbie Hancock’s early fusion bands, reedist Bennie Maupin was one of the key players in the early jazz-fusion movement, and achieved fame for his high-volume saxophone solos and energetic melodic invention. Known primarily as a soprano/tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist, Maupin's playing is heavily rooted in the post-bop styles of John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy.

Bennie Maupin

Bennie Maupin was born on April 29th, 1940 in Detroit, Michigan. He first began playing the piano by ear around the age of eight. Between junior high school and high school Maupin picked up the clarinet but soon realized that he wanted to play saxophone. In the Spring of 1962, Maupin had just completed his final semester at the Detroit Institute of Musical Art. Maupin made his way to New York City in 1962 with the rhythm 'n' blues roup the Four Tops and he ended up staying after putting in his two weeks. Upon arriving in New York, Maupin also began to play the bass clarinet, an instrument that he would be associated with for the rest of his career.

Maupin was broke after his first week in New York City and subsequently went to the New York unemployment office and got a hospital job, which he kept for three years. During this time, Maupin made his way into the jazz scene, making friends with saxophonist Jackie McLean and eventually drummer Jack DeJohnette and pianist Chick Corea. Maupin’s first major recordings came with alto saxophonist Marion Brown. He appeared on his 1965 album The Marion Brown Quartet and on his 1966 albumJuba-Lee, with Wayne Shorter’s brother, trumpeter Allan Shorter. In 1967, Maupin began playing with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. Along with Maupin the band also featured pianist Kenny Barron and drummer Freddie Waits.

Maupin was also featured on the album You Had Better Listen, by Kenny Barron and Jimmy Owens. The title track received airplay many radio stations across the country. Maupin followed these stints up with recording engagements with trumpeter Lee Morgan and pianists McCoy Tyner and Horace Silver. Tyner’s 1967 album Tender Moments was a classic post bop recording that captured the post Coltrane sound that dominated many of Tyner’s releases for Blue Note during the late 1960s and Maupin’s playing is both accessible and out on this album.

Maupin continued his associations with Lee Morgan and Horace Silver, appearing with both musicians live and on record from 1968 through 1970. Organist Dr. Lonnie Smith employed both Morgan and Maupin on his 1969 album Turning Point and the group is heard doing a stellar reinterpretation of the Beatles’ song “Eleanor Rigby."

Maupin is also heard on the song “Absolutions from Morgan’s 1970 album Live at the Lighthouse. His solo on this song stays mostly in the lower register of the tenor saxophone and is borderline avante-garde, with low drones and squeaks, walking the thin line between melodic and atonal.

A major turning point in Maupin’s career was when he was invited by Miles Davis to record on his album Bitches Brew. Maupin had been introduced to Davis by drummer Jack DeJohnette. When Maupin got the call from Miles, he obviously wanted to play saxophone, but Davis had him play bass clarinet for the entire August 1969 session.

Hancock, meanwhile, had explored the jazz-funk realm with his 1969 release Fat Albert Rotunda but had yet to go completely electric. This is all changed in 1970 with the formation of the Mwandishi band which featured Maupin, Dr. Eddie Henderson on trumpet, Buster Williams on bass, Billy Hart on drums and Julian Priester on trombone. The group’s 1970 self-titled debut was a free form record with heavy attention given to textures and group interaction. Hancock had yet to include the synthesizer into his keyboard rig and he used a Fender Rhodes exclusively for the first album.

Maupin also found time to record with Davis yet again, this time for his album A Tribute to Jack Johnson, which was an album of soundtrack music written for the Bill Clayton documentary. The Mwandishi group followed up their self-titled album with 1972's Crossings. On this album Maupin contributed primarily soprano sax and bass clarinet parts. He is heard on the cosmic tracks “Water Torture," “Sleeping Giant" and “Quasar."

Maupin rejoined Miles Davis for his 1972 album On the Corner, a series of long funk inspired jams and also one of the trumpeter’s last albums before going into drug fueled seclusion for the rest of the decade. Maupin also appeared on trumpeter Woody Shaw’s 1972 album Song of Songs. The Mwandishi group continued in the space funk direction with their last release, 1973's Sextant. Maupin adds his spice to the dark funk of “Rain Dance," and to the track “Hidden Shadows."

Sextant was the last album that the Mwandishi band recorded and Hancock disbanded the group, keeping only Maupin for his 1973 groundbreaking album Headhunters. With this album, Hancock moved towards a much more polished, commercial funk sound but the album still proved to be just as equally experimental while retaining its commercial undertones. Maupin’s playing on the album was equally as funky. The group came up with “Chameleon" during a jam session and Maupin played the lead melody during this session. Other songs of note from the Headhunters album include the atmospheric “Vein Melter" and a rearranged verison of Hancock’s 1960s hit “Watermelon Man."

In 1974, in addition to recording and touring full-time with Hancock, Maupin also released a solo album entitled The Jewel in the Lotus. It featured many of his Headhunters bandmates and they can be heard on the song “Ensenada." Not to be outdone by their success with the Headhunters album, Hancock and company released Thrust in 1974. Equally full of funk and odd-metered tunes, this release proved to be almost as commercially successful as the previous release, peaking at 13 on Billboards Top 100 Album Chart. Songs of note include the multiple metered “Actual Proof" and the slow but enchanting song “Butterfly."

Maupin continued to record with Hancock, both of whom had moved permanently to Los Angeles, through the late 1970s. Maupin appeared on 1975's Man-Child and 1976's Secrets, two albums which build on the sound of the previous Hancock releases but are much less experimental. In 1977, Maupin started a free-form group with bassist Cecil McBee, pianist Mike Nock and drummer Eddie Marshall called Almanac. They released an album that same year entitled Almanac.

Throughout the 1980s and the 1990s, Maupin maintained a much lower profile than the first fifteen years of his career. He reunited with Herbie Hancock for his 1994 album Dis is Da Drum and he recorded with Mwandishi synthesizer programmer Patrick Gleason in 1998 for his album Driving While Black on Intuition. Maupin returned to recording a leader with his 2006 release Penumbra and his 2008 release Early Reflections.

Select Discography

As Bennie Maupin

The Jewel in the Lotus (ECM, 1974)

with Miles Davis

Bitches Brew (Columbia Records, 1970)

A Tribute to Jack Johnson (Columbia Records, 1971)

On the Corner (Columbia Records, 1972)

With Herbie Hancock

Mwandishi (Warner Brothers, 1970)

Crossings (Warner Brothers, 1972)

Sextant (Columbia Records, 1973)

Headhunters (Columbia Records, 1973)

Thrust (Columbia Records, 1974)

with Lee Morgan

Live at the Lighthouse (1970)

with McCoy Tyner

Tender Moments (Blue Note, 1967)

Contributor: Jared Pauley