by Lola Rossi-Meza
Presented by the McCallum Theatre and KJJZ’s Jim “Fitz” Fitzgerald, Spanish guitarist, Benise, kicks off the 14th year of concerts for “Fitz’s Jazz Cafe” on Friday, November 2, at 8 p.m. in “Benise – En Fuego!” at the McCallum Theatre, 73-000 Fred Waring Drive in Palm Desert. Tickets are available on-line at www.McCallumTheatre.com or call the box office at (760) 340-2787.
Born and raised in the Midwest with two older sisters, Benise started playing guitar when he was eleven. “I remember that I just felt like I needed to play the guitar,” said Benise. “I was glad my parents bought me one. I could feel the guitar calling me to express my feelings, but I do not come from a musical family.” A natural performer and musician, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a musical career. “I was playing Rock and Roll when I moved to California. But then, I found the lifestyle wasn’t for me. I was at the end of a relationship, broken hearted, my career wasn’t taking off, and I was at a crossroad in my life.” Benise never lost faith in himself and never lost the passion to follow his dreams.
While listening to the radio one day he heard the intriguing sound of the Spanish guitar. “I heard the Spanish guitar performed by guitarist Marc Antoine. I had never heard anything like it before, it was beautiful. It changed my life.” He then put all his electric guitars in the closet, and concentrated on playing the Spanish guitar. He tried to find work as a Spanish guitarist in some of the local restaurants and night clubs, but was told that it sounded like elevator music and they weren’t interested.
Taking the bull by the horns, as they say, in 1999, Benise took his act to the streets of Los Angeles and performed with some friends, for fun. It caught the attention of almost everyone who heard him. “People would come up to us and ask if we had any CDs for sale with original music. So I had to put a CD together and we sold so many, I could hardly keep them in stock. I fused my Rock and Roll roots with the Spanish guitar and it became my own unique style.”
From 2000 until 2005, Benise performed with his band at the corner of Tahquitz and South Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs every Thursday night during the Street Fair. “This is sort of like a homecoming for us. We performed every other week and sold a lot of CDs.” I remember seeing Benise perform there with his 5 piece band, and I’m sure, many of you will remember him as well. “It is because of the support from our fans that we were able to quit our daytime jobs and devote all of our time to our music. Then we started doing concerts and PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) took notice and we went National. It all started in Southern California and especially in Palm Springs.”
In 2005, his show, “Nights of Fire” choreographed by Alexandre Magno, won an Emmy Award for Best Costumes. “We won the Emmy for basically the Best Dressed Band in the World,” he said laughing. “We have a very multi-cultural cast of dancers and musicians from Brazil, India, Cuba, France, Mexico and the United States.” If you watch his YouTube video of “Nights of Fire” or “The Spanish Guitar” you will see all the beautiful costumes and the spectacular cast of dancers and musicians that make this a very unique experience, suitable for the entire family. “We just finished our third show, ‘Live From China’ for PBS.”
His appearance at the McCallum will feature the best of all three shows he has produced as World One Music, along with performing some of his favorite Classic Rock and Roll songs like “Kashmir”, “Thunderstruck” and “Hotel California”, with a Latin flair., of course. The show will take you on a journey of music and dance through Spanish Flamenco, Cuban Salsa, African Rhythms, Argentine Tango, and Brazilian Samba. He produced, arranged and released eight CDs on his independent record label, Rosanegra Music, and three DVDs on Rosanegra Films. “I really think we have something for everyone. I hope that people will be inspired, by our story, the music, the production and have the passion to follow their own dreams.”
On a personal note, my husband Johnny Meza and I were performing at the Siena Hotel, Spa and Casino in Reno, Nevada, for musicians Shirley and Sergio Villegas in July of 2011. One afternoon, their booking agent, Maryse Nicole, was having lunch with Benise and introduced us. I am looking forward to seeing this talented performer on the McCallum stage. The Los Angeles Times calls his show, “The Latin Riverdance!” and you will agree. I remember a card from a long time ago, it read, “Dream the impossible, for impossible dreams can come true.” Benise is living his dream.