Sound It Out: “20 Questions” #9 — Ben Monder

Another installment of the recurring “Sound It Out: 20 Questions” feature on, with an artist answering a survey inspired by the famous Proust Questionnaire…

(Ben Monder, performing at Greenwich House. Photo: Eliseo Cardona.)

Guitarist Ben Monder was born in New York City, growing up in Westchester County and then moving back into the city in the early ’80s. He has developed a highly distinctive sound in the decades since, by turns atmospheric and incisive, drawing on influences from rock as well as jazz. He has recorded six poetically minded albums as a leader, including Hydra (Sunnyside, 2013), Oceana (Sunnyside, 2005), Excavation (Arabesque, 2000), Dust (Arabesque, 1997) and Flux (Songlines, 1995). Ben released his latest leader album in 2015 via ECM: Amorphae, featuring drum sages Paul Motian and Andrew Cyrille, along with Pete Rende on synthesizer. Ben has collaborated regularly with singer Theo Bleckmann live and on record, along with working in the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra, recording a duo disc with saxophonist Bill McHenry and playing on several albums led by Motian. Strikingly, Ben was the featured guitarist on David Bowie’s final album, Blackstar. Talking with me for a Listen magazine article about the making of Blackstar, he said about working with Bowie and producer Tony Visconti: “David and Tony gave me a lot of freedom to interpret the tunes and come up with sounds that I felt were right… I left the studio elated every day.” (For anyone who would like to read the Bowie article in full, with further quotes from Ben, I’ve posted that story here and a companion piece here.) Ben has performed many times for Sound It Out, including a sold-out show in the series as a leader in tandem with Cyrille in November 2015, to celebrate the release of Amorphae. Prior to that, the guitarist led a trio with Chris Lightcap and Adam Cruz, in December 2013. Ben also appeared for Sound It Out in a duo with Aaron Schragge in April 2016, as well as featured in the series three times in Tony Malaby’s Paloma Recio and also in bands led by Jerome Sabbagh and Noah Preminger. — BB

  1. What was the first jazz album you fell in love with and stayed in love with?

A Love Supreme by John Coltrane.

  1. What do you think is one of the most overrated jazz albums ever?

Jazz albums need all the help they can get, so I’m not going to go there.

  1. What’s one of your all-time favorite non-jazz albums?

Led Zeppelin II.

  1. What’s the last album you listened to from beginning to end – and did you like it?

Bare Trees by (early) Fleetwood Mac – loved it!

  1. What’s your favorite film score?

2001: A Space Odyssey.

  1. What was the most recent concert – of any genre – that made you fall in love with music all over again?

Guitarist Adam Rogers’s trio at the 55 Bar, in Greenwich Village.

  1. Which are your very favorite and least favorite venues for live music?

My favorite is the Village Vanguard – for its history, acoustics and friendly ghosts. I hesitate to list my least favorite venue because I still might want to get a gig there. But it rhymes with U-Boat.

  1. What’s your favorite quote about music?

“Don’t practice unless you feel like it, but always feel like it. — attributed to Illinois Jacquet but related by Jim Leff.

  1. If you could have a drink with any late visual artist of the past, who would it be?

Yves Tanguy. He painted the way I would like to sound.

  1. What are the top three tools of your trade?

Guitar (Ibanez AS-50), Lexicon LXP-1, ’65 Fender Deluxe amp.

  1. What’s your most indispensable piece of technology that isn’t music-oriented?

Coffee maker.

  1. What non-musical/non-technological quality is most important to being an enduringly creative musician?

Patience, and the ability to delay gratification.

  1. What living person do you most admire – and what’s one quality he or she has that you most admire?

Brian Lehrer – his unflappability.

  1. What living person do you most despise?

Everyone is deserving of compassion.

  1. What’s your favorite place in the world?

My work room – inspiring, quiet, safe.

  1. If you could live in another time period, when would that be?

The 1960s. I did live through it, technically, but was too young to drop acid.

  1. What book would you most like to read again?

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.

  1. What film haven’t you seen that you feel like you should?


  1. What aspect of the past do you miss most – and what’s one thing you look forward to about the future that doesn’t yet exist?

I most miss the absence of the internet, which I blame for the restructuring of my brain. I look forward to eventually having the time and mental space to do the work that needs to be done.

  1. What would you like your last meal to consist of?

Rigatoni Alla Norma at Queen on Court Street, Brooklyn.