Born in New York in 1963, Benny Green grew up in Berkeley, California, and began classical piano studies at the age of seven. Influenced by his father, a tenor saxophonist, his attention soon turned into Jazz: I began trying to improvise on the piano, imitating the records I'd been hearing from my father's collection, which included a lot of Monk and Bird… it was a gradual process of teaching myself. Benny played in school bands before hooking up with Jazz singer Fay Carroll: That was good training for me in terms of accompaniment and learning about the blues, and she also gave me a chance to play trio, opening for her every night.
As a teenager he worked with Eddie Henderson, and got some big band experience with a 12-piece group led by Chuck Israels. After his graduation, Benny freelanced around the bay area for a year, and then moved to New York in the spring of 1982. Back in the Big Apple, he met veteran pianist Walter Bishop Jr.: I began studying with him and he helped point me in the direction of developing my own sound, and he also encouraged me to check out and study the whole scope of Jazz piano history, so I could get a sense of how I was to fit in.
After a short stint with Bobby Watson, Green worked with Betty Carter between 1983 and 1987. In 1987, he joined Art Blakey's band. He remained a Jazz Messenger through late 1989, at which point he began working with Freddie Hubbard's quintet.