Marco Benevento: Reinventing Amy Winehouse

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A 32-year-old pianist, Marco Benevento performs Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good" on a 1927 Wurlitzer. courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Marco Benevento

A 32-year-old pianist, Marco Benevento performs Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good" on a 1927 Wurlitzer.

courtesy of the artist

Friday's Pick

  • Song: "You Know I'm No Good"
  • Artist: Marco Benevento
  • CD: Between the Needles and Nightfall
  • Genre: Jazz

A 32-year-old New Jersey resident who's been playing piano since he was 7, Marco Benevento knows a thing or two about reinvention. His stage name came from adding the "o" to his birth name, Marc, as a boyhood homage to a soccer star. He performs on a 1927 Wurlitzer upright piano that has only 61 keys (red keys, in case you were wondering), designed for train cars and bars. That old piano is a big part of the appeal: Its tinny sound is run through a 1950s amplifier, adding layers of fuzz and grit, so it's as if you're listening to a very old recording of a very new song.

In this case, that new song is Amy Winehouse's retro-soul hit "You Know I'm No Good." Benevento strips it of its memorable trappings — brassy voice, bold horns — and gives it a jazz piano treatment. At the outset, Benevento keeps the listener waiting, pumping the piano with a vamp that says, "Something is going to happen... but not yet." Then, out of the blue, comes the familiar Winehouse-ian melody line.

Benevento's assertive interpretation features plenty of bluesy grace notes in his right-hand flights, an unexpected touch of dissonance in the chords, a big build-up aided by the pounding drummer and a surprise appearance by a scatting vocal chorus, as well as a churchy slowdown at the end full of tremolos, stutters and arpeggios. In his emotional, gospelized jazz, Benevento pays tribute to his musical inspirations: Horace Silver, James Booker and Ray Charles among them.

Meanwhile, you might wonder: Why remake Winehouse? "You Know I'm No Good" is the only cut Benevento didn't write on his new album Between the Needles and Nightfall. Like her many fans, he was attracted to her voice, and he especially loves this song. "It will stand the test of time," he said in a recent interview. "The melody, harmony and lyrics all work perfectly together to create a song that is easy to improvise over, dance to and play in any style — tango, groove, swing, rock." His rollicking interpretation shows just what he means.

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