George Benson - Guitar Man
Orpheum Theatre - June 23, 2012
By Ken Pickering / Artistic Director
This show is coming up quickly - Saturday night (June 23rd) at the Orpheum so I thought it would be cool to include a short little blog hit on Mr. Benson. Yes he's a household name but - I know I’m at risk of sounding repetitive in this blog space but once again it’s true, this man has been part of my jazz listening for so many years – seems like a lifetime really – but maybe it’s just that I’ve been around for a few years too! Not everyone is aware of his roots in the soul jazz scene of the 60’s, so I thought it would be fun to revisit some of that music, but also to include some of his brand new stuff. So get ready to groove on some seriously funky soul jazz. I've included some great tunes from some classic albums.
His guitar sound was ubiquitous through the 60's on funky organ trio dates with Jack McDuff (check this monster out - ShadowDancers from The New Boss Guitar of George Benson with the Brother Jack MacDuff Quartet on Prestige - 1965) and Lonnie Smith. The first GB albums I heard were It’s Uptown circa 1965 (listen to Hello Birdie for some burning fretwork and listen to A Foggy Day for an early example of his fine voice) and George Benson Cookbook circa 1966 (Columbia) featuring Lonnie Smith also from that era. Check out the Cooker from that one.. very heavy! There was another album by Lou Donaldson Alligator Bogaloo (circa 1967 with George and Lonnie) on Blue Note that I heard when I was getting into jazz. Here's a funky clip called The Thang that's in the pocket featuring the great Lou Donaldson's alto, Lonnie Smith and George Benson.
Here's a piece called Slow Scene
As a teenager I recall listening to him on a fantastic old Jimmy Smith album on Verve – The Boss (couldn't find a clip) and I always loved his very modern sounding comping on the Miles Davis classic Paraphernalia (written by Wayne Shorter - he's at the fest June 26th at the Vogue) –from Miles in the Sky (both circa 1968) and both of those records (yes vinyl records) still reside in my collection.
Sometime after that he worked with the legendary Creed Taylor at A&M (Tell it Like it Is & Another Side of Abbey Road circa 69/70) and then signed with Taylor’s fledgling (hugely influential over the years through DJ sampling) CTI label (for albums such Body Talk, Benson and Farrell circa 71-76) and then to Warner Brothers for his breakthrough crossover album Breezin’ in 1976 that also brought his voice to the forefront. As the saying goes, the rest is history!
Although he’s focused on his velvet like vocal delivery in recent years it’s really his amazing guitar mastery that’s responsible for his jazz reputation. Here’s a great clip of George sitting down and talking about guitar influences (Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Tal Farlow etc) with some mean playing for good measure – from his Art of the Jazz Guitar. Here’s another great clip from Breezin’ Lounge with Jody Fisher playing some Charlie Christian influenced blues over rhythm changes. Awesome!
The new album Guitar Man (Concord Records) is very fine (check out this great trailer for the album), a special treat with more of his great guitar work than we find on other recent discs with great songs such as beautiful version of John Coltrane's Naima, Danny Boy, Tenderly and Paper Moon. Benson is still going strong, touring the world and putting on amazing shows with his crackerjack soul/jazz/pop ensemble. His last festival show knocked everyone out! Check him out at the Orpheum Theatre this Saturday!