Benny Green

Benny Green of the Benny Green Trio performs Sunday at Silo’s in Napa.

Ron Jones photo

Bill Hart, president of the Napa Valley Jazz Society, cannot say enough about Benny Green. He says that Green is the greatest hard bop jazz pianist performing today. In jazz world, hard bop is bebop with a heavy influence of rhythm and blues. Its piano-playing pioneers include Horace Silver and Thelonious Monk. The Benny Green Trio performs this Sunday afternoon at Silo’s.

On the phone from Berkeley last week, Green talked about his early passion for jazz. “I had key support and inspiration from my father, who introduced me to jazz,” he said. “He played the tenor saxophone, his hero was Lester Young. From a very early age I heard my father’s jazz records, and he was listening to Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, Ray Charles, Billie Holiday, and I really liked the music.

“From early on, my father instilled a fascination and curiosity within me. Anytime I heard someone I liked, I instantly wanted to learn about where they came from, who they had listened to, who they learned from, what bands they worked with. I was getting a clear sense of the history and the depth of the music from a very early age. That’s something a typical kid who chooses an instrument in elementary school and takes privates lessons maybe doesn’t get.”

Green also identified Phil Hardymon, a teacher in the Berkeley school system, as an early influence. “He went to all the public schools in Berkeley,” he said, “from the fourth-grade level through high school, throughout the week, and taught us about jazz. Between my father and Mr. Hardymon, as a child I had two serious jazz angels in my corner.”

In his late teens, Green made an ambitious decision that would change his life. Whatever it took, he would join Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. “I was absolutely determined, just convicted to become a Jazz Messenger,” Green said. “It was in my blood somehow.

“I understood that would mean moving to New York, going to hear the band in person as much as possible, sneaking my little tape recorder in to record the shows, and practicing along with the tapes at home.”

It took years, including a four-year stint as jazz singer Betty Carter’s piano player, to fulfill his ambition, but in 1987, at age 24, Green was a Jazz Messenger, the latest in a piano lineage that began with Horace Silver.

Since 1991, Green has led his own trio, recorded 17 albums and made dozens of appearances on other artists’ recordings. His trio’s latest release is 2015’s “Live in Santa Cruz.”

At Silo’s, Green will perform with bassist David Wong and drummer Rodney Green.

Sunday, June 12, 4 p.m. Sponsored by the Napa Valley Jazz Society (NVJS). $45, $25 (NVJS members). Silo’s, 530 Main St., Napa. 707-224-5299. nvjs.org/tickets.

David Kerns is a Napa-based freelance journalist. You can view more of his work at DavidKerns.com.

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