Jim Benitez / Jazz Host
Jim Benitez shows
A self-taught Latin percussionist since the age of 12 when his father handed him Cal Tjader’s 1960 Latino album featuring Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo back in 1966, and an LP fiberglass conga and told him, “here, learn to play right with these,” he’s been living and breathing Latin Jazz.
A computer network engineer during the day, Jim keeps busy as part of a team overseeing the health and security of the computer network of a major Massachusetts retail corporation. Jim is also a US Army Vietnam Era veteran and served as an Air Traffic Controller, where he admits, “that was my first real foray out in radio broadcasting directing all those aircraft.” His first real commercial radio experience began at Worcester’s Gois Broadcasting Inc.’s WORC 1310AM in 2006, co-hosting the first Latin Jazz show in Worcester called Ran KanKan, with his friend Edwin Cancel. The show lasted about six months until Edwin resigned and Jim took over the show, renaming it Latin Jazz Sundays. Jim also hosted a Salsa show at the same time on Saturdays called Salsa DuraSabados, that’s Hard Salsa Saturdays, and again on Sundays with Alex Vega on Salsa Na’ Ma. Both became major hit shows in Worcester’s Latin community and achieved a 2.5 rating in the Arbitron radio charts for two years. Although short-lived, it was well-remembered by his listeners, leading to an opportunity in Hartford under the Gois Broadcasting group of stations at WNEZ 1230AM. A fusion of the two shows became an all-Spanish language show called Jazz Latino Ahora, or Latin JazzNow!
Through all of this, Jim developed a following that extended to New York, Florida, California, Hawaii, Canada, and Milan, Italy, thanks to the show being streamed online to listeners well outside of Worcester. “I am honored to be at WICN surrounded by the finest and most supportive group of radio professionals in the world. Latin Jazz has a home here on public radio and here in Worcester, and it’s called WICN 90.5FM, New England’s Jazz+ station, and on Friday nights it’s New England’s Latin Jazz Station.”
5 Questions with Jim Benitez…
What brought you to hosting a show on WICN? Why do you love being on the air?
My induction into the WICN fold started back 2003, soon after moving up from Florida. As I was driving up I-290, scanning the radio stations in the car, I came across some pretty cool jazz at the 90.5 mark, so I left it there. It was at some point in the afternoon when my eventual mentor would come on the air, Joe Zupan. I’m like, “hey this is pretty cool.” A few weeks later, driving into Worcester on Rt.9 crossing Lake Quinsig, there’s Joe again playing Gary Burton’s Bag’s Groove (
)… I’m like, OMG, I just had to pull over, that walking base line gave me the goose bumps… I said, I gotta keep listening to this station!
Fast forward to March 2009, Tyra Penn at about 10am plays Chano Pozo’s Tin Tin Deo by Poncho Sanchez(
), now I’m like “it’s Time, I’ve got to get in there!” God would have His way when while at work at TJX, the GM at the time, Audrey Hall, rings me up giving me “The Latin Jazz Beat” show slot! “How’d that happen?,’ you ask; well–you see, I had visited the studio with Jaime Flores at WICN a few times before since he had heard me on 1310am WORC where I had my own Salsa Saturdays and Latin Jazz Sundays shows. We would talk on the air about Latin Jazz music and tunes he did not have in his collection to play on the air, so I brought some of mine a few times. So, I guess Audrey Hall got wind of me being on the air with Jaime so much, I’m sure she must have heard me, and well, the rest is history…
What is your favorite WICN memory?
Newport Jazz Festival! I was selected to introduce Esperanza Spalding on the main stage representing WICN to that huge crowd out there!! My heart just kept jumping in and out of my chest all the time as I’m reading the intro, and I almost died of excitement when Esperanza comes out and announces that “that was a great intro,” OMG, we bowed thanks to each other on stage in front of the crowd!! Whew… what an exhilarating moment that was for me.
FILL IN THE BLANK: The best concert I ever saw was ______________?
Way too many concerts to string out on here, but for me number ONE was the FANIA ALL-STARS at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum, San Juan Puerto Rico in 1973, a few months after their explosive performance in New York City at Yankee Stadium (
). A few years before Fania, EDDIE PALMIERI and Friends at the University of Puerto Rico (
) Why?? Why wouldn’t you want to be totally blown away by the most historically powerful and immensely influential Salsa bands on earth at the time? These people completely changed the way Latin music was perceived by all since.
Many listeners don’t know that the majority of our hosts are volunteers that do this out of a personal passion. What do you/did you do professionally off the air?
I’ve been in the computer programming and networking business since 1974. In my US Army days, writing Fortran programs on punch cards, and later COBOL on IBM’s System 360 mainframes while working as an Air Traffic Controller, specializing in Precision Approach Radar Control, then as a Network Systems Engineer for Massachusetts’ largest employer, TJX in Framingham, until August 2018.
Who are your favorite artists and/or albums of all time?
Well, that’s a very difficult question. I can only just whet your curiosity with a few samples if you’ve read this far…
Eddie Palmieri’s Sentido, Vamonos Pa’l Monte, Justicia, Superimposition, and Sabiduria
Changing lanes and/or genres, if you will, these are also very close to my heart, I could listen to these all day:
All of Jeff Lorber; Kenny Garrett; Tom Coster; Brian Bromberg; Bob Baldwin; Elaine Elias (I just love this woman); Rebeca Mauleon; Gretchen Parlato; Herbie Hancock; George Duke; Randy Scott; Eric Marienthal, etc. … Ok, that’s enough name dropping for now…
May I suggest a stroll by my playlists dating back to March 2009. Every song in those lists I played for the WICN audience because I couldn’t wait to share how much I loved each and every one of them.