Bennie Maupin is best-known for his atmospheric bass clarinet playing on Miles Davis' classic Bitches Brew album, as well as other Miles Davis recordings such as Big Fun, Jack Johnson, and On the Corner. He was a founding member of Herbie Hancock's seminal band The Headhunters, as well as a performer and composer in Hancock's influential Mwandishi band. Born in 1940, Maupin started playing clarinet, later adding saxophone, flute, and, most notably, the bass clarinet to his formidable arsenal of woodwind instruments. Upon moving to New York in 1962, he freelanced with groups led by Marion Brown, Pharoah Sanders, and Chick Corea, and played regularly with Roy Haynes and Horace Silver. He also recorded with McCoy Tyner, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Jack DeJohnette, Andrew Hill, Eddie Henderson, and Woody Shaw, to name only a few.
Maupin's own discography as a leader includes a well-received recording for ECM Records, The Jewel in The Lotus (1974), Slow Traffic to the Right (1976) and Moonscapes, both on Mercury Records (1978), and Driving While Black on Intuition (1998). The instrumentation of Maupin's current group, The Bennie Maupin Ensemble harkens back to the tradition of great saxophone-bass-drum trios, such as the group led by Sonny Rollins with Wilbur Ware and Elvin Jones.
The Bennie Maupin Ensemble came about as a result of Maupin's continuing musical association and friendship with drummer/percussionist Michael Stephans. Internationally renowned bassist Derek Oles was a natural addition because of his open approach to interpretation and improvisation, as well as his masterful bass playing. In early 2003 world class percussionist Munyungo Jackson joined the group, and the Bennie Maupin Ensemble was born. The 2006 release, Penumbra, is a profound musical statement by an important jazz artist who is at the pinnacle of his artistic powers. Penumbra is dedicated to the memory of Lyle Spud Murphy.