Primary Instrument: Piano
Without ever taking a lesson or learning to read a note, composer and keyboardist Ben Tankard has, over the course of 18 years and 16 best selling recordings, used his God-given musical talent to share the hope of the Gospel that changed his life. Widely renowned by his millions of fans as the Godfather of Gospel Jazz and The Quincy Jones Of Gospel for his three-time Grammy nominated work as a producer, Tankard-who along with his wife Jewel pastors the Destiny Center, a fast growing church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee (near Nashville) -has earned 15 gold and 6 platinum albums, nine Stellar Awards, six Dove nominations and three Gospel Music Hall of Fame Awards.
On his latest Sony/BMG/Zomba/Verity release Let's Get Quiet: The Smooth Jazz Experience, the multi-talented musician quiets his heart and taps into the gentler side of gospel, getting in touch with what millions of the faithful call the still small voice of God. While the majority of Tankard's previous recordings are all-star affairs featuring genre greats like Take 6, Yolanda Adams and Shirley Murdoch, Let's Get Quiet--with the exception of the passionate lead vocal of Shelly Massey on the dreamy, soulful opening number Let's Get Quiet (Shh)-was conceived as a completely solo contemporary smooth jazz project. In addition to doing all the drum programming and sampling, Tankard plays keyboards, guitars and the Yamaha EZ-TP trumpet parts.
In addition to eight instantly compelling originals, ranging from graceful and soothingly romantic numbers like Remain Calm and Close Your Eyes to the easily percussive, old school R&B-flavored pieces Lake Cabin, Night Flight (which has a cool, thumping chill vibe) and Slow Jam W.B.E.N, Tankard includes his inspired interpretations of favorite urban classics by Frankie Beverly (the funky, mid tempo Before I Let Go), Al Green (the reassuring Everything's Gonna Be Alright) and Patrice Rushen (Remind Me). He also adds a lush and elegant piano solo take on the beautiful hymn I Come To The Garden Alone.
The title 'Let's Get Quiet' makes a statement that is a suggestion, Tankard says. Besides the war going on and the ongoing problem of crime in our society, everybody seems to be in a rush nowadays. I know that the most peace you can find is in the presence of God, and by slowing and quieting down the outside noise, we allow Him to help us in all areas of our lives, from relationships to important business decisions. On a lot of my previous albums, I performed familiar church songs in a jazzy manner and added some original material. Because people recognized so much of the music from church, and that's the environment where I first put my fingers on the keys and began playing, we called it 'gospel.'
Let's Get Quiet, however, is my very first recording completely dedicated to the easy grooving smooth jazz style, he says. I wanted the whole flavor and spirit of the album to be honest, so as to encourage listeners to get by themselves and get quiet. I did everything myself to show that when you find yourself alone in God's presence, there's truly nothing you can't accomplish. People in the church know that gospel has a softer side, but a lot of folks' perception is that it's all like James Brown doing a flip in the midst of a choir, like he did in The Blues Brothers. To me, gospel isn't a genre of music, but good news to the brokenhearted. Instead of gospel jazz, I see this music as 'good news jazz.'
Recounted eloquently in his inspirational bestselling book Faith It Till You Make It, Ben Tankard's incredible journey of faith began humbly in various small towns in Florida, where he grew up in poverty with a minister father and missionary mother. He began playing drums in church at age three, then graduated to tuba and was offered several music scholarships out of high school before accepting a basketball scholarship to Wallace State in Alabama. After a short time in Canada with a minor league team, Ben got his shot with the NBA but suffered a knee injury in training camp and was cut from the team.
After rough period of self-doubt, depression and near homelessness, he accepted Jesus Christ at a Pentecostal revival service in Dothan, Alabama. Asked to sit down at the piano, the preacher anointed Tankard with oil and he began to play; it was clear that the God of second chances had another purpose for him, and Tankard over the years has used this gift to become the minstrel, a reference to a passage in 2 Kings where the hand of the Lord comes upon a minstrel who plays music. The man some call the Piano Prophet (also the title of his 2004 recording) is now credited with being the best-selling gospel jazz instrumentalist and producer in the world with over 1.5 million in worldwide sales.
In addition to being a solo artist, Tankard discovered four time Grammy winning gospel legend Yolanda Adams and produced numerous albums for her, in addition to collaborating over the years with Take 6, Fred Hammond and Kelly Price. The keyboardist's 1997 hit song Git Yo Praize On with his ensemble, Tribe Of Benjamin, has become the world's most used phrase among praise teams. In addition to his success as a recording artist, author and speaker making over 150 personal appearances annually, Tankard currently freelances with the NBA on player development and owns his own NBA minor league Pro basketball team called, appropriately enough, the Mufreesboro Musicians.
Tankard is also one of the few African American performers who actually pilots his own two Cessna airplanes to church, concert and festival gigs from his home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He owns a single engine Centurion and a twin engine Skyrocket. He and his wife and partner Jewel usually spend Thursday-Saturday away at shows before returning to their flock every Sunday morning at The Destiny Center, which they founded five years ago. The couple, which has five children, ages 11-23, has a televised local broadcast that teaches people how to find their purpose and walk in true Destiny
We call it Destiny Center for a very simple reason, says Tankard. Jewel thought her destiny was to be a runway model, but she became a successful businesswoman and minister. I'm thinking I'm supposed to be the next Michael Jordan, but I became a musician /minister /businessman. Our church is open to everyone, but we have a special heart for those 20-50 who are presently displaced and don't know what they want to be when they grow up. One of my spiritual gifts is offering them encouragement, using music as a soundtrack for the good life as I help reposition them on their road to their true calling in life. Let's Get Quiet: The Smooth Jazz Experience is a moment along the pathway to heaven where everyone can slow down and focus on what really matters.