Born and raised in Northern VA, ‘Ben Kim’ began classical piano lessons at age 4 before picking up saxophone in 5th grade. In 9th grade he was completely taken by the sound of classical saxophonist Reginald Jackson who was invited to give a masterclass at his high school. Ben promptly began saxophone lessons with Reginald (whom you hear daily with Washington Saxophone Quartet on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered) and in his senior year was accepted into the studio of Donald Sinta at University of Michigan, “widely regarded as one of the finest, if not the very finest, institutions for classical saxophone” according to Music School Central. Improbably, the three admittees of that year—all from Northern VA—had entered the Fairfax County Band Directors Association Solo Competition to take place at end of school year; ironically, Ben, who of the three would not go on to Michigan and would not major in music, took first prize. Majoring in engineering physics, Ben enjoyed exploring the concert saxophone for four more years at Cornell University under the baton of a young Mark Scatterday who in short time would be appointed conductor of the Eastman Wind Ensemble.
It wasn’t long before Ben, while a graduate student at Penn State University, ventured into improvisation, the lure of the extemporaneous stylings of jazz, funk, blues, rock and pop proving irresistible. After two decades he continues to be inspired and influenced by Michael Brecker, Eric Marienthal, David Sanborn, Dave Koz, Kirk Whalum, Everette Harp, Nelson Rangell, Maceo Parker, Bob Malach, Eric Alexander, Seamus Blake, and Jim Gailloreto. Relative unknowns he’s come across on YouTube in recent years whom he digs include ‘beatbox’ saxophonist Derek Brown, Leo P. of Too Many Zooz, and Jay Collins of Gregg Allman and Allman Brothers Band.
Ben views music as having no boundaries and accordingly you can hear him around Central PA playing (besides funk, soul and R&B with Gill Street): folk and country with vocalist Joan Coraor; jazz fusion with Skip Wareham’s Big Coronas; big band jazz with Keystone Society of Swing; Americana with singer-songwriter Erin Condo; and pop instrumental with keyboardist Beomsoo Kim. In 2011, accompanied by Caroline Ryu, Ben won the senior division of the first annual Happy Valley’s Got Talent. He and Beomsoo were invited performers of the national anthem for State College Spikes Baseball numerous times, and in 2014 for the ESPN-broadcast eighth annual Penn State Lady Lions Basketball Pink Zone game. His duo with Joan and duo with Beomsoo were televised on WTAJ’s Central PA Live in May 2013 and April 2015, respectively. Ben is a former member of State College’s ‘funk juggernaut’ DopplerPoppins and of State College Area Municipal Band.
When not performing and practicing Ben is a scientist at Penn State Applied Research Laboratory. Ben is ever grateful to Dan Yoder, recently retired Penn State director of jazz studies, for welcoming non-music majors and helping otherwise serious musicians develop in his ensembles.