By Matt Micucci
In one of the polarizing events related to jazz in recent times, popular comedian H. Jon Benjamin recorded a jazz album entitled Well I Should Have, in which he plays the piano – despite never having played the piano at all.
H. Jon Benjamin is an American comedian best known for his roles as voice actor in such shows as Archer, Family Guy and Dr. Katz. He also has his own series, which he stars in, on Comedy Central, called Jon Benjamin Has a Van.
Instead of recording the average stand-up comedy album, Benjamin decided to do something very different – record his own form of avant garde jazz album entitled Well I Should Have, and was released on November 27 on SubPop.
For Well I Should Have, the comedian enlisted the help of professional musicians and sought council from a Philadelphia jazz underground legend – Odean Pope. Pope, who grew up with jazz legends from Coltrane to Gillespie, gave the man sound advice, telling him that “in order to connect with the instrument you ot to give it some time”.
The sound advice was, of course, promptly ignored.
Benjamin stamements such as “I’m not a huge fan of jazz, and that’s why I thought it would be funny to make a jazz album” didn’t help with winning jazz afficionados over.
Well I Should Have has been seen as a sleight on the genre by some, and a comedian’s exciting process of exploration into uncharted territory by others. Regardless, on a musical stand-point, one can imagine it is virtually unlistenable.
It also feels like an alternative take on the many comedians that try their luck at a music recording career. Seth MacFarlane, for instance, is enjoying quite a solid one through performances of beloved jazz standards. The difference here is that Seth MacFarlane, of course, is a jazz fan to begin with.
While the quality of the end result is up for debate, one thing is for certain. In this album we see, or hear, a comedian trying to be original, and that is really all that you can hope from an artist. And whether H. Jon likes jazz or not, jazz has ironically provided the foundations for what is one of the most unusual comedy improv experimentations of the year, or in a long time – the key word here being improvisation, one of the vital elements of both comedy and jazz.