Born: August 25, 1940 Primary Instrument: Clarinet
Formed in 1957, the Benkó Dixieland Band is one of most popular jazz groups in Hungary while also one of the best in the world, an ensemble whose very first album was a golden disc. Winners of a great many Hungarian festivals and competitions, the BDB has been honored with numerous awards. The group has played to tens of thousands, and some of the greatest international stars were invited to play with them on stage. Over the years, the guests have included Milt Jackson, Freddie Hubbard, Al Grey, Buddy Tate, Joe Newman, Buddy Wachter, Henry Questa, Joe Muranyi, Eddy Davis, Cynthia Sayer, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Albert Nicholas, or Wild Bill Davison from the United States as well as Chris Barber, Kenny Ball, Tony Scott, Huub Janssen, Acker Bilk and many others from this side of the Atlantic.
The BDB went international way back in the sixties, first touring the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia and East Germany. They were further afield by the seventies: winning the First Prize in Montreux in 1971 and the Grand Prix awarded by the public in San Sebastian in 1972. The prestigious English magazine, Music Week picked them as “Stars of the Year” in 1976. The eighties saw their first successes in America. In 1982, the BDB won the Grand Prix of the Sacramento Jazz Festival in California. In the same year, they were honored by an official recognition of the California State Assembly. In 1983, they received the title, “International Jazz Band of the Year” in California and their excellence was recognized by two consecutive California Governors, Mr.Jerry Brown and Mr. George Dukmenjian. In 1987, they received a distinction from Mr. Ronald Reagan, then President of the United States who expressed his gratitude on behalf of the American people for the Benkós being such outstanding ambassadors of American Jazz in the world. In 1998, Sándor Benkó received the European Inter-LYRA Prize, a distinction awarded by the international community of musicians for his outstanding contribution to music. With several golden disks to their credit, they received an award for lifetime achievement from Hungaroton, the Hungarian Record Company in 2001. The Hemingway group put them on its Wall of Fame in 2002.
The Benkós are fully appreciated also in Hungary. Himself recognized with a LISZT PRIZE and State Award, Sándor Benkó and the group received from the hands of then President Árpád Göncz the Officer’s Cross of the Order of the Hungarian Republic in 1997. In 2004, the BDB was awarded the PRIMA Prize, in 2004, the PRO URBE Miskolc and in 2005, the PRO URBE BUDAPEST distinction.
The BDB plays some 200 to 250 concerts every year in Hungary and abroad. They have released 64 albums and have had a total of 110 hours of television show time. The interviews and other TV programs in which they feature are being annually seen by 600 million viewers in the world. Their regular international tours have taken them to the most different countries of Europe, America and the Far East where they have been received as traveling ambassadors of both Hungary and New Orleans jazz. What a wonderful combination!
The members of BDB are: Vilmos Halmos (piano, vocal), Jeno Nagy (banjo), Gábor Kovacsevics (drums), Zsolt Kelemen (bass), Béla Zoltán (trumpet), Iván Nagy (trombone, vocal), Sándor Benkó (clarinet, leader and manager of the group).