Primary Instrument: Guitar
Born in Minneapolis, Ben Siems began studying piano when he was seven years old, switching to cello at age nine. He first tried his hand at composing only a few years later, writing arrangements of traditional songs for violin, cello and piano.
Siems began teaching himself guitar during his senior year of high school, learning from the records of B.B. King and Robert Johnson. After attending Brown University, he made a name for himself on the East Coast folk scene as a solo acoustic guitarist and singer, combining classic blues playing techniques with his lyrical sense of melody. His solo recording, Sun's Gonna Shine, was aired on a number of New Jersey radio stations as he toured that state, playing to full houses at such legendary venues as the Mine Street Coffeehouse.
After returning to the Twin Cities in the mid 1990s, Siems began to focus on instrumental music. Now best known for his melodic modern jazz compositions, he performs regularly as the leader of The Willie August Project and as a guest soloist with some of the Upper Midwest's most prominent jazz players. His guitar work combines techniques transferred from the cello with ideas from blues masters and jazz greats such as Wes Montgomery. His writing, showcased on the Willie August Project CDs, Surrender to the Wind, Transparent Sunrise and Dream Truths, merges the jazz of the sixties with a variety of other influences, including classical music, the ECM sound, the blues and the West African rhythms he studied under Akan master drummer Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng. The recordings have been featured on KBEM-FM 88.5 (Jazz 88) in the Twin Cities, on Minnesota Public Radio's statewide broadcast, The Jazz Image, and on jazz radio stations across the United States.
In addition to his work with the Willie August Project, Siems has composed music under commissions from independent filmmakers, dance companies, and community organizations. He has received three composing/performing commissions from the American Composers Forum and three composition and performance grants from New York City's Meet the Composer, Inc. His most recent award was a Meet the Composer Creative Connections grant in support of his genre-crossing new music concert series, Empire at Twilight.