At age 25 Nicolini also began writing songs, teaching himself piano and performing in nightclubs under the alias Bénabar, inspired by the famed clown Barnabé. While touring with frequent collaborator Patchol, Bénabar formed his own band in 1996, enlisting saxophonist Denis Grare, trumpeter Vincent Schaeffer, double bassist Stéphane Benveniste, and drummer Pascal Vignon. Dubbed Bénabar et Associés, they issued their debut LP, La P'tite Monnaie, in early 1998, spending much of the year to come on tour. Upon signing with major label Zomba, Bénabar issued a self-titled album in September 2001, followed by an extended tour in support of Henri Salvador. The LP went gold, and just 18 months later Bénabar issued the follow-up, Les Risques du Métier.
Another grinding tour schedule followed, yielding the concert set Live au Grand Rex. With 2005's Reprise des Négociations, Bénabar issued his most intimate collection to date, eschewing the social commentary that was the hallmark of previous records in favor of more explicitly autobiographical material, including the lead single, "Maritie and Gilbert Carpentier." On the heels of Reprise, Bénabar expanded his résumé to actor, as he appeared in several films. However, Bénabar returned to music three years later in 2008 with Infrequentable. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi