Opinion

Casey Benjamin, Free-Spirited Saxophonist, Dies at 45

Casey Benjamin, who brought colorfully expansive saxophone flourishes to the Grammy-winning Robert Glasper Experiment and added rich layers of texture to recordings by Solange, A Tribe Called Quest and many others, died on March 30 in Maryland. He was 45.

The cause was pulmonary thromboembolism, his brother, Kevin Benjamin, said. He did not say where in Maryland Mr. Benjamin died.

Known for his willingness to experiment, his exuberant stage persona and his trademark swirl of locs, often streaked with teal or red,Mr. Benjamin was a founding member of the pianist Robert Glasper’s combo, which, the critic Nate Chinen wrote in The New York Times in 2012, “specializes in deep, immersive grooves, nourished as much by hip-hop and R&B as any known species of jazz.”

“Black Radio,” the band’s fourth album on the venerable Blue Note label, featured guest appearances by the neo-soul singer Erykah Badu, the rappers Lupe Fiasco and Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def) and others. It won the 2012 Grammy Award for best R&B album and rose to No. 15 on the Billboard album chart. Mr. Benjamin shared another Grammy with the band in 2015 when “Jesus Children,” a Stevie Wonder cover, won for best traditional R&B performance.

Whether collaborating with Mr. Glasper or the critically acclaimed vibraphonist Stefon Harris in the band Blackout, Mr. Benjamin showed off his distinctive voice on his primary instrument, alto saxophone. In an obituary, the jazz bible DownBeat wrote that he “possessed a fluid, round sound on the alto saxophone and a unique sense of phrasing.”

But he never let himself be limited by genre, style or even instrument; he created a rainbow of sounds using not only reeds and woodwinds but also a vocal synthesizer manipulated with a keytar (a keyboard instrument worn with a strap around the neck), along with other synthesizers and effects pedals.

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