Family, Friends, Students & Bandmates Flood Social Media with Tributes and Memories
Longtime Santa Clarita resident and Arroyo Seco Junior High School band director Rod Bennett’s tragic death late Wednesday afternoon, May 25, while on a routine (for him) cycle ride, has hit the Santa Clarita community hard.
As news of his death and the hit-and-run circumstances broke on local and L.A. media less than an hour later, many of Bennett’s family, friends, colleagues, bandmates and students took to social media in an outpouring of grief, and condolences to his wife of 24 years, Val Pryor.
Many also expressed anger at the then-unknown driver who rear-ended Bennett on his bike and left him for dead on the side of the road.
A suspect turned himself in Friday after the cops found the car in Canyon Country and ID’d the dude as the driver, and he’s due to be charged with a felony. We’ll have to see how it plays out.
Meanwhile, those who knew Bennett already miss his easy-going nature, adventurous spirit, sharp intellect and rapier wit. Quick to laugh, he was both charming and disarming, without trying to be either.
Along with being a loving and devoted husband to Val (they met in 1985 when both were in the UCLA Marching Band, and married in 1992), Bennett orbited in many universes in our community – math teacher, musician, band teacher, cyclist, kayak fisherman, spectator sports fan, wine aficionado, road-tripper.
In each of his metaphorical solar systems, he attracted friends and admirers who in turn orbited around him, often developing deep and lasting relationships.
Bennett was a serious fan of jazz and an in-demand vibes ace who also played bass, drums and a wide variety of percussion instruments just as well. Among Santa Clarita Valley musicians, from students to his peers, Bennett was admired, respected and influential.
For the last decade, Bennett worked with Santa Clarita jazz guitarist Jim Hagen, in a few different iterations of Hagen’s small jazz combo. For the last couple of years, the Hagen Jazz lineup featured Hagen, Bennett, bassist Roger Brooks and drummer Lance Allyn, with Jerry Danielsen occasionally sitting in on keyboards.
In this appreciation, you’ll read just a sampling of the many tributes to Bennett posted on social media last week, plus exclusive reminiscences shared by his former bandmates (who include this author).
Bennett Debbie Nelson, Salida, Colorado: “Stunned at the loss of my beloved cousin and a great man. A talented musician, a wonderful teacher…my heart aches for his students, who just played at Disneyland under his baton (on May 16).”
Lynn Dickinson, Santa Clarita: “So sad. Thoughts and prayers with his family, fellow teachers, and Arroyo students. It’s a tragedy for our whole community.”
Joseph D. Mitchell, Long Beach: “My condolences to the family of Rod Bennett. I met Rod when he came to California to attend UCLA. Rod was a great friend and colleague; he was at my wedding in ’86 and we worked together as freelance musicians in L.A. In search of his killer remember: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” – Martin Luther King
Vic Herstein, Santa Clarita: “Words cannot describe the shock at seeing that musician, teacher, all around wonderful guy Rod Bennett will no longer take long bike rides with his lovely wife Valerie Pryor. He was hit and run and left for dead. My sincere condolences to Val and his family and friends.
I first met Rod and Val at All Corked Up (a wine bar in Centre Pointe, Santa Clarita). Wine lovers, they always offered me a splash of what they were drinking. Sad day.”
Jim Hagen, Santa Clarita: “Rod Bennett was a good friend and bandmate. I learned a lot about jazz from him because he was an excellent musician. Over the years, we played countless gigs together, and even had a couple of gigs planned for next week.
“A couple of months ago, after one of our gigs, I was approached by one of his former (Arroyo Seco math) students who saw him on the bandstand. The student thought Rod looked familiar and was trying to
figure out who he was. Finally, it dawned on her that it was ‘Mr. Bennett’! She said he was the best teacher she ever had. I meant to tell him, but never got the chance.
“This is just one of many stories that show that Rod was an exceptional person who touched the lives of many, far and wide.”
Read more from Jim Hagen in my exclusive interview about Bennett on Friday, May 25, 2016.
Lance Allyn, Santa Clarita: “My heart is just so broken … about the loss of an awesome man and great friend, Rod Bennett. I am still in absolute shock. My heart goes out to Val and the family. Rod was so many great things, but I was always so amazed at his musicianship. Every time we would play together I would always be stunned at his wonderful vibes chops.
Thursday, May 26: “After a whole day of shock I have finally started to think of all the fond memories I have of Rod.
“We started out our friendship as a musical one. I first met Rod when a mutual friend brought him to my house. I had agreed to play guitar and Rod would play bass for an event at a local school (where Rod was a teacher). He was so nice, cool, full of enthusiasm, and a really competent player.
“A while later he called me for a jazz gig. It was the first time I had heard him play vibes, and I was shocked. Since then (several years ago) I have worked a ton with Rod in a few different lineups of jazz situations.
“There were plenty of surprises as time went on because Rod was skilled on several instruments, but most people don’t realize that because he was too humble to mention those skills until the need arose.
“He was so fun to work with on the countless gigs we’ve done over the years because we could switch instruments during a performance and he was totally comfortable doing that. He played bass, drums, and was a tremendous vibes player, and he probably played many more instruments that even I don’t know about because of his humility.
“He and I would always discuss players like Lionel Hampton or Leigh Howard Stevens, among other mallet masters. Rod was so humble that he would never accept the fact that he had a four-mallet technique that was unbelievable, or that the players that I brought up to him in conversation were brought up because he sounded so much like them!
“Rod was cool to watch in the studio also because he was a natural. I was doing some track sweetening on a James Hagen recording just one week ago and heard some of Rod’s solos on playback for the first time and was blown away.
“He was always so pleasant to hang around as well, always smiling. He was not only my friend, but also someone I deeply admired his energy for life. He and Val would show up at some of my solo gigs. Every time, and in every situation, I saw just how supportive of family, friends, and students this man was. I miss him dearly.”
Roger Brooks, Santa Clarita: TK
“I met Rod about 15 years ago, at Wolf Creek pub. He and his wife Val were there hanging out after work, and I happened to be there, too. I saw he had a Frank Zappa mug and I asked him about music.
“That opened up a huge topic, and I found out that, like me, he was a musician – drums, percussion and vibes.
“We both loved some of the same music and enjoyed some good laughs, too. We also spoke of education, since he was a school teacher, and I teach privately, too.
“It seemed that I saw Rod and Val at the same pub (and some other places) repeatedly, and over time got to know them well. Great times, good people.
“Fast-forward seven or eight years: I met and started working with Jim Hagen. He wanted me to help with his jazz band mix. I commented on the vibes and who the player might be and he told me Rod Bennett.
“After some time went by, Jim’s jazz band came to record in my studio (Busy Signal), and I worked with Rod – recording his vibe playing for a CD project. The band was also looking for a keyboard player, and I was asked to lend my playing to the music.
“One thing led to another, we did more recording and I ended up playing live with Rod and the band several times. We had more gigs and projects planned for the future, and there was momentum behind it all.
“Rod was always friendly and light-hearted, kind and talented. I always looked forward to seeing Rod and Val. I will miss him deeply.”]
Val Pryor: “Thank you, everyone, for your condolences and kind words…I appreciate it. He will be missed by me and the entire community.”
Adding One More Voice to the Chorus
Among the very brightest highlights of this writer’s 53 years as a musician and 41 years as a music journalist was playing in a jazz band with Rod Bennett, if only for less than a year.
In fall 2010, one of my interns at The Signal, Paige Hagen, knowing I played drums, mentioned that her jazz-guitarist father Jim Hagen was looking for a drummer to jam with his group.
I’d taken private lessons in the mid-’60s as a junior high school kid in North Miami, Florida with a noted local jazz drummer, Sonny Mangiamelli (his credits included backing up Frank Sinatra at The Fountainbleu Hotel on Miami Beach), but it had been a long time since I’d played straight-ahead jazz, and was a bit rusty.
Nonetheless, when I called Jim he invited me to jam on a weekend day. When I arrived at his house, he’d already set up a small drum kit he kept stashed in the living room closest. As I settled in he introduced me to Rod Bennett, who was just arriving and setting up his vibes. He was very friendly and enthusiastic about playing together.
In a few minutes, Jim launched us into something by Miles Davis. From the first few bars, I knew these guys were on a par with pros, and I worked hard to knock off the rust. Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Bud Powell I am not. But Rod was always encouraging; I didn’t know at the time he’d also played drums since his teens.
Jim and Rod soon asked me if I knew a bass player, so I called Rusty Amodeo. He’d sat in several times with Peaking Duck, my longtime rock ‘n’ roll garage jam band, after the original bass player moved to Colorado. P-Duck was on permanent hiatus, and Rusty was jazzed to flex his five-string. When he arrived at Hagen’s place and plugged in, blam! RainTree Jazz came to be.
Sitting behind Jim’s kit, watching and listening to these guys play over my attempted grooves, was the kind of thrill we musicians live for. Looking for the pocket, the groove, the zone. There were times we found it. When you’re there, it’s better than sex, money or intoxicants.
After years jamming with mostly rock bands fronted by guitars and keyboards, RainTree Jazz was my first experience in a band with vibes, and I loved the sound.
Rod’s playing was masterfully dynamic – powerful at times, utterly nuanced at others – a perfect balance of rhythm and melody.
Watching his mallet work, especially with four mallets, was fascinating. He made it look effortless.
I’d seen Lionel Hampton and then Bobby Hutcherson onstage in the ‘70s (both at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach), and to my eyes and ears, Rod’s playing was in the same league.
Beyond that, Rod shared my love for rock trivia and knew his stuff. He was much fun to be around.
I never saw him bent out of shape about anything or heard him say a disparaging word about anyone.
Several months of weekends wood-shedding in Jim’s living room later, we/I got better, and RainTree Jazz played its debut/ farewell gig at George’s Bistro in Valencia on May 21, 2011.
The owner actually paid us and asked us to return, but the group disbanded before that could happen.
After that, Jim took a break for a while, found a better drummer, and began playing again around the Santa Clarita Valley, renaming the group Hagen Jazz.
Since then the group has gigged and recorded extensively; they had a two-year residency at Valencia Wine Company on Town Center and still play there occasionally. I regret I only caught them a couple of times, and didn’t stay in closer touch.
Fortunately, for all of us, Bennett’s legacy looms large. He left recordings, videos and an indelible impression on the minds, hearts and souls of everyone who knew him.
To paraphrase a Native American saying, a person does not die until the last person who remembers them dies.
If that’s true, Bennett’s spirit will live eternally.
* * * * *
A memorial service will be held for Rod Bennett on June 9 at Eternal Valley Memorial Park in Newhall, at 1 p.m.
In lieu of flowers or gifts, his family requests donations be made to the Santa Clarita Valley Food Pantry in the names of Rod Bennett and Val Pryor.
Photos courtesy Val Pryor unless otherwise credited.
Santa Clarita journalist Stephen K. Peeples, a Grammy-nominated record producer and award-winning radio producer, has covered the Santa Clarita Valley music beat since 2004. He was the award-winning Online Editor for The Signal from 2007-2011, and hosted-co-produced SCVTV’s WAVE-nominated “House Blend” local music show from 2010-2015. Peeples is also VP/New Media Emeritus for Rare Cool Stuff Unltd. and CEO of PetMeHappy.com. For more stories and info, visit https://stephenkpeeples.com/. For exclusive behind-the-scenes interviews, subscribe to his YouTube channel.
Article: Santa Clarita Remembers Good Vibes with Rod Bennett
Category: News & Reviews
Author: Stephen K. Peeples