Drew Bentley (Plan 9)

Plan 9 unites musicians who have helped create some of the mega-hits of the past three decades in a pop/jazz forum.  New, original music and familiar covers are featured in a highly melodic, highly rhythmic and high energy performance. Drew’s complete lack of musical experience made him the obvious choice to be the leader of Plan 9.  Classically trained, Drew began playing at age 8 but his musical career was interrupted by college sports and a trip to graduate school for a Ph.D.  A mid-life crisis led to his return to music.  

  • You consider the music of Plan 9 as Smooth Jazz. What do you think about this term?


DB: We actually consider the music of Plan 9 to be instrumental pop rather than smooth jazz.  Unlike the days of old, when radio stations had no set format and their play lists could include anything from Led Zeppelin to, God forbid (or maybe not), the Archies, we now live in an age of micro- formatting where most stations play only one type of music, i.e. classic rock, light rock, smooth jazz, etc.  As there are currently no instrumental pop stations, Plan 9 fits best in the smooth jazz format.


The term “Smooth Jazz”?  Well, what’s in a name anyway?  Call if smooth jazz, easy listening, whatever, it’s the music that matters.

  • Does Smooth Jazz have a future? Is there still a market for Smooth Jazz? What are your personal experiences?

DB: Without a doubt, yes. 

The market may be growing ever smaller.  Smooth jazz is often hyped with the terms “smooth”, “cool” and “relaxing”.   Those terms probably turn off more listeners than they attract.  Much of the music played on smooth jazz radio is extremely upbeat, even exciting. Perhaps the focus should be on the positive rather than the negative.  

A complaint shared by listeners, musicians and, even, radio people, is with programming.  Many feel that some consultants program to be inoffensive and that the current climate discourages musicality.  

Plan 9 has, to some extent, been criticized for being too musical.  We’re often accused of “changing bands” in the middle of a song.   While this offends some, it appeals to others.  

Remember, you can’t please everyone, but you can please yourself.  The icing on the cake comes when others like it too.


  • Is Plan 9 your first group, you're playing with? Tell us something about your musical past. 


DB: Plan 9, except for an absolutely terrible trio in junior high school, is my first band. Not a bad group of musicians for a first band is it?  
 I began playing the guitar at age 8 and was classically trained.  I studied throughout college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but my musical endeavors took a back seat to football & track. 
After college I pretty much stopped playing while I got a Ph.D. in immunology and explored career options.   I picked the guitar back up three years ago after a 20+ year hiatus (whoops did I give away my age?).  After a year of playing the bar/restaurant circle,  John Marsden and I did a gig record.  A small label liked it, but wanted original music. 
John set to work writing the music for "Cool Breeze" and we brought the other guys in to play on it.  The chemistry between all of us was so good that we decided to make Plan 9 more than a studio project.
So, I really was not kidding when I aluded to my "complete lack of musical experience".  I did have the sense, however, to surround myself with some of the greatest musicians in the business.


  • How did you become acquainted with John Marsden ?
DB: Before I began playing solo gigs, I was looking for someone to prepare backing tracks.  After making some inquiries, I was refered to a studio in Orlando, but they were too busy for my project at that time.  They, in  turn, referred me to John.  Their loss, my gain!
John prepared a set of cover tracks for me and out I went.   People began asking if I had a CD after several months and John went to work preparing a cover album of 70's R&B hits.  He brought in Larry Jacoby to play bass and Liberty Devitto, Billy Joel's drummer, to play on it.
The album, which we never released, was really quite good and a small label expressed some interest.  They were, however, more interested in an original album.   John then set to work writing the songs for "Cool Breeze" and brought in the the session players who are now the heart and soul of Plan 9.


  • So it was John Marsden, who brought you together with the other group members? Tell me more about him and his connections to artists and music industry?
DB: John grew up in New England and studied music composition in college.  He has toured with several oldies groups including the Platters, Drifters and Marvelettes. 
As much as he loves to perform, John is first and foremost a composer, arranger and engineer.  He almost hates to leave his studio, Little Big Sound in Orlando.  John has for years written and scored the music for Barnie, the beloved children show.  He has engineered numerous jazz projects including works for Kenny Drew, Arturo Sandoval, Nathan Page and Larry Coryell among others.
Thanks to his studio work, he has made connections with the many fine artist living in the Orlando area.   These artist include the members of Plan 9 and others including Liberty Devitto (Billy Joel's drummer), Larry Hoppen (Orleans).


  • What does the Orlando area  make so attractive for musicians, especially jazz artists?
DB: I don't know if Orlando holds any special attraction other then the weather, the availability of work and, oh yes, the absence of a State income tax.
  • You forgot to mention the Disney Theme parks nearby. But let's talk about the other group members. For example Lane Hoppen, Larry Jacoby and Charlie Morgan.
DB: The members of Plan 9 are all great musicians and wonderful people to be associated with.
Charlie Morgan is without a doubt one of the greatest drummers in the world.  Finesse plus!  Charlie originally hails from the U.K. and spent 13 years with Elton John.  He has also played with Paul McCartney, Tina Turner, Cher, The Moody Blues and recently did the soundtrack for the film Moulin Rouge. 
Larry is the only bass player I've ever worked with during my short musical career.  He grew up in New York and has played with Pat Benatar, Peabo Bryson, Geoffrey Osborne and did several stints in Broadway musicals while in New York.  Larry jis one of a kind.  He just got married last weekend - all our best.  His new wife is a lovely lady and obviously has great patience.
Lane is also from New York state.  He grew up in the very musical Hoppen family with brothers Larry and Lance (Orleans). and played with them in Orleans in the '80s.  A multi-talented musican with a great voice, I've see Lane play the keyboards with one hand and the trumpet with the other. 


  • Did John Marsden know them all personally or how did the group find together?
DB: John knew everyone but Lane.  He had either played with them or used them in the studio.
But before we go any further we can not forget about the Charlie DeChant and Steve Walters our horn players.


  • Go ahead, Drew. Tell me more about both.
DB: The horn players really add the pizzazz to the music of Plan 9.
Charlie DeChant is one of the most extraordinary musicians on the planet.  As you know, he has been the saxophonist for Hall & Oates for many years - all those memorable sax lines are Charlie.  He is also an exceptionally versatile musican.  He plays the flute, keyboards, guitar and some percussion.
Steve Walters plays with the Four Tops, Temptations and has played with Aretha Franklin and Wayne Newton.  Steve also plays a mean flugelhorn.


  • I have read at your website, that Charlie DeChant also played the sax solo on "Maneater". Do you know a special story about this?
HBH:  I'll let Charlie answer that himself as I was way too young to even remember that song (Ha Ha!!):

Hey Drew,

I don't know how cute this story is, but it's my story and I'm sticking to it.
When I was recording the solo on "Maneater", the idea was to have the sax repeated by digital delay 4 beats later. At the time, the studio (Electric Lady, if I'm not mistaken) didn't have a digital delay with that much memory.
So I had to record the solo thinking that it was to be repeated 4 beats later. They added the delay in the mix- and the rest is history.


  • Let's talk about your new album "Cool Breeze". The cover of the album shows a pretty woman at a lake-shore. Any comment?
DB: No comment on the model !!!!!.  The cover was actually shot in my backyard on Sykes Creek, a branch of the Indian River Lagoon.  We stood in the pool to get the shot as the water is only 15 feet away.


  • What can you tell us about the making of "Cool Breeze?"
DB: Cool Breeze is almost (99.9973% +/-) entirely John's brainchild.  This was the album he had wanted to make for twenty years, and, in fact, he used some songs he had written that long ago. From the outset I wanted to do an album with a latin flavor as I have always loved those rhythms, but that was about the only guideline he had to follow.
I have to confess that I was in absolute shock when I first heard the horn solos.  As this was John's creative project, I had no idea what he had in mind and hadn't asked.  I had become accustomed to hearing the songs without the solos and was floored when I heard the additions, particularly Charlie's saxello work on "Vie de la Rue".  I listened to the cuts at least five times that first night.
"Aguaford" was originally written about Waterford, a small town in Maine.  When we decided to add a latin flavor, it was renamed accordingly.  "Mona's Smile" was actually a concept for a piece for a children's show, but was deemed too jazzy.  We (yes, in this case I actually contributed a b flat) adapted it to fit "Cool Breeze" and it has become one of the more popular pieces on the album, probably due to its carribean flavor.
The most widely played song from "Cool Breeze" has been "Pieds Contentos".   Shortly before "Cool Breeze" was released, this song was used in a documentary.  The guys in the truck called it the "woo woo" song due to the synth sound at the beginning.  The name has stuck with us.
My favorite song from "Cool Breeze" is "Vie de la Rue".  After writing four or five songs, John asked what direction I wanted to take. I suggested we look towards France for inspiration.  John came up with "Vie".  The song, which has a great groove, conceptualizes musicians playing in a streetside cafe.  The saxello adds an eastern european feel.
Surprisingly, "Vie" has been the least popular cut amongst the radio stations in the States.  I have, however, heard many Americans say they love it and it has been quite popular elsewhere in the world.  That may comment on the diversity of taste, between programmers and listening audiences and between the people of the world.


  • Were the tracks recorded by Plan 9 at little-big sound in Orlando in one take?
DB: Most everyone's (except for someone who shall go nameless) were.  All the guys are so experienced and talented that's all it took.


  • This special Latin flavor of your music is mainly generated by the acoustic guitar. Which Latin artists have inspired your guitar play?
DB: I don't know that any particular artists influenced my style.  I was into rock, but studied classical. Segovia of course.  Contemporary artists that I love to listen to include Acoustic Alchemy, the Gypsy Kings, Peter White and Mark Antoine.


  • The uniqueness of this album is the combination of modern style with drum programming, keyboard sounds and traditional orchestral brass arrangements. Are there two hearts beating in your breast?
DB: John is a deeply conflicted individual (just kidding).  He has, as you point out, done a marvelous job of mixing sounds into complex arrangements.  As thick as the arrangements are, however, he has made sure that there is no conflict between instruments.  The mix is outstanding.


  • I read in the booklet that track 4 "take off" is dedicated in memory of Ryan. Can you tell me more about it?
DB: Ryan was the 23 year old son of a very dear friend of mine.  He sadly passed away due to a drug overdose at the time "Takeoff" was being written.  The song seemed appropriate to dedicated as he had "taken off " to a better place where his spirit could soar. 


  • Currently Plan 9 is touring in book stores in Florida. Is the complete group playing?  Do you plan greater events in concert halls?
DB: We are focusing on the in store promotional appearances through April.  John or Charlie Morgan plays percussion with me to the tracks at those events.  Beginning in early May, the entire band will begin concert and festival appearances.


  • How is the first reaction of the audience?
DB: Audiences love the album - it is just likeable.  Even straight ahead jazz fans react positively.  We normally perform album cuts and close with some of the new Christmas arrangements including last year's hit "God Rest Ye".
The bookstore performances are a tremendous mechanism for creating awareness and are a lot of fun because we can "get up close and personal" with the audience.


  • You mention the new Christmas arrangements of your upcoming album entitled "The 9 Days of Christmas". I think you wanna unveil your new project and tell us something about it?
DB: Our Christmas 2001 single "God Rest Ye" was done at the suggestion of Sabrina, the hostess of WLRQs "Lite Jazz Brunch", who is a dear friend and has been tremendously supportive of Plan 9.  She felt she needed more Christmas music for the jazz show.  It dawned on me, after her suggestion, that the release would keep us on the air elsewhere during the holiday season.
The song was shockingly successful.   The song, in fact, received far more airplay than "Cool Breeze" as it was played outside the smooth jazz format.  People across the country frequently called in to request it and asked retailers for the record. 
"God Rest Ye" was offered as a free download on Smoothjazz.com, where it could be heard but not saved.  Over 950,000 people downloaded it.  I must have answered emails for 30 minutes a day regarding the song once it became recognized.
Based on the success of "God Rest Ye" (and the fact that we really have fun with Christmas songs) we are now well underway on "The 9 Days of Christmas".  We honestly believe that this will be a holiday album that people have been wanting for a long time as some of the standards have become, well, dated.  "The 9 Days" will be a tremendously fun, upbeat renewal of those songs.  Look for a few surprises along the way too.  We still have that tendancy to "change bands in the middle of a song".


  • Do you think that selling an album through a website or through platforms like CDBaby or CDStreet is an adequate way  commercializing an album  successfully?
DB: No.  These are certainly good methods, but there is currently no real music search engine to classify the album by type, tempo, style, etc.  Unless someone knows what they're looking for, finding an album happens by chance.


  • Nevertheless your album is available from national and local retailers (Barnes & Nobles, Borders, etc.) and CDBaby. Are you still searching distributors?
DB: No.  We're set in the States with two distributors.  We are considering deals that will cover Europe and Asia.  Latin and South America await.


  • Your group Plan 9 was nominated as "Best New Group" for the 2002 National Smooth Jazz Awards. What is your opinion about these awards?
DB: Unfortunately we did not make the short list of nominees, but it was really flattering to be thought of by the industry.  Contemporary jazz has been largely overlooked by the Grammys so these awards are a truly great thing.  It is wonderful that contemporary jazz artists have an opportunity to recognized by the industry and the public.


  • Alicia Keys was the winner. What are you thinking about this result?
DB: Alicia Keyes is an extremely talented artist who can do jazz very, very well.  Her album "Songs in the Key of A Minor" was not, however, a contemporary jazz album even though it did cross over.   I am somewhat surprised that the "Smooth Jazz" industry and jazz-loving public voted for her for this award.
  • Some of the observers believe that the decision would be mainly influenced by the fan clubs. Artists like Rick Braun or Peter White would be dominating the National Smooth Jazz Awards. Are you sharing this opinion?
DB: I really don't know, however, those artists certainly deserve large fan clubs that could influence the voting.  It is also possible that the major labels have a strong influence too.
  • Tell me something about your equipment. Which kind of guitars do you use and what are the pros of your choosen instruments?
DB: After a seemingly endless search I found my two guitars, a 25th anniversary Taylor 614 and a Takamine Classical. The Taylor is an absolutely beautiful instrument, only 100 of this model were made. More imporantly is the beautiful, sweet tone of the instrument. I've tried over a dozen classical guitars, and most had intonnation problems. The Takamine was flawless.
  • Would you like to tell us a little bit about your musical past?
DB: Not much to tell. I started playing at 8 and played all through college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I pretty much stopped for 20 years when a mid-life (well, hopefully, not mid-life) crisis hit. I had John put some backing tracks together and started playing the bar/restaurant circuit around home. Plan 9 evolved about a year later.
  • After the past let's face your future. What are your plans after the Christmas album?
DB: We have a few ideas that are top secret, but since its you.... We have a few new original tunes and are considering a cover album. The cover album would, however, have a twist that no one has considered. Whatever we do, I promise that it will be fun, creative and very musical.
  • That sounds very promising. We will await your new albums unpatiently. Thank you for this informative interview, Drew.