"I started doing these tributes around 2001 and Chuck Perrin at Dizzy's has graciously given me Paul, John, and George's birthday months for tributes to this day," Benedetti said. He notes it's difficult to whittle down a setlist of Harrison's tunes, especially if you include his Beatles era material. "We always like to feature George's most well-known numbers, which are Beatles tunes such as "Here Comes the Sun," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Something," but we also love doing deeper cuts like "Within You, Without You" from Sgt. Pepper and so many of his tunes after the breakup of the Beatles, such as "My Sweet Lord." The potential song list includes material through Harrison's final solo album, Brainwashed (2002) and songs from The Traveling Wilburys.
The Ensemble is a family affair that also includes Benedetti's daughters, vocalists Regina Moomjean and Julia Picone, alongside multi-instrumentalist/bassist Jeff Pekarek and percussionist James Morton. He's teamed up with Pekarek since well before his daughters were born. "I've been playing the guitar since age nine and started public busking performances around fifteen with my two friends, James Lyons and Jeff Pekarek, in Balboa Park," he recalled.
Benedetti arrived in San Diego at age 14. "I was born in Japan," he explained. "My mother was Japanese, and my father first-generation Italian-American. He was in the Navy so we came to San Diego brieﬂy when I was 4-5, and then he was stationed in Pearl Harbor, so we lived in Hawaii from ages 6-13. We came back to San Diego when I was 14 when my dad retired and I have been here ever since," he said.
Benedetti's musical beginnings go back to his father. "Of course growing up in the '60s, the Beatles inspired me to no end, even today. However, my real ﬁrst inspiration was my dad who played the guitar quite well," Benedetti recalled. "He taught himself to play classical guitar pieces from Andres Segovia records, which is no small feat." Decades later this would have even more significance. "One of the highlights of my life was to perform in a master-class for Maestro Andres Segovia in 1986 with my father and mother watching in the audience," Benedetti said.
Though best known as a guitarist, Benedetti did make forays into other instruments, including piano and saxophone. "The guitar feels very natural to me," he said. "The sound of the instrument always caught my attention as a kid and to this day I never tire of playing it. Other plucked string instruments like the mandolin and ukulele feel equally familiar to me."
Making music is a tough way to make a living, but Benedetti is happy with his choice of music as a career. "Simply put, I love it," he said. "I've been fortunate to play in so many different genres, ensembles, and bands that I've been able to keep my calendar ﬁlled with gigs that I enjoy and can make a living. It also doesn't hurt that I'm a full-time professor. I still would be able to make a decent living without that job, but it would be a bit more "tough."
According to Bendetti, the year ahead will feature more of "…the same. Keep playing. Keep teaching." He does have one bucket list item, however. "That would be a recording with my daughters Regina, Julia and I performing our original music," he said good-naturedly. "Perhaps by the time that happens my grandsons Marley and Luca will be in on the project too."
A Tribute to George Harrison: Saturday, Feb. 22, at Dizzy's at Arias Hall, 1717 Morena Blvd. 8 p.m. $20. www.dizzysjazz.com