Few jazz musicians have had a career which spanned such a range of music and accolades as guitarist George Benson.
In this article we’ve picked 10 iconic performances – both from his own albums and those he guested on – to highlight the journey from rising star guitar player in the 1960s, to internationally renowned artist today.
Born on the 22nd March, 1943 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, influential guitarists in . is one of the most important and
With a voice as recognisable as his style he has excelled in a variety of popular genres with record sales in the millions while always staying true to himself – a remarkable feat.
He started very young indeed; he was playing in an by the time he was eight years old, and a year later recorded a single for Groove Records.
He was eventually grounded and his was impounded by his father while he spent time in a juvenile detention centre.
A fan of players Charlie Christian & Tal Farlow – as well as the ever-versatile Hank Garland – Benson met whilst still at high school and started playing in his band, recording 5 albums between 1963-65.
His recorded first as a leader ‘The New Boss ‘ for Prestige with MacDuff’s band, and from that moment onwards things developed very quickly.
The Cookbook (1966)
Under John Hammond’s production, the quartet continued in the direction established while playing in ‘s band, with Lonnie Smith now at the Hammond.
At only 22 years old, on the New York scene. was fast becoming the most exciting
Miles Davis – Miles In The Sky (1968)
Miles Davis was looking for new sounds and textures in the post bop era to move the on that would eventually lead to his breakthroughs in rock fusion.
This Wayne Shorter composition is the first Miles recording to feature a In A Silent Way sessions just one year later., and Benson’s hugely influential performance alongside Miles’ second great quintet of Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, brings an urgency and groove to the recording that shows the way forward to Miles’
Freddie Hubbard – Straight Life (1970)
Straight Life is probably Freddie Hubbard’s finest recording; a seventeen minute Latin masterpiece.
It leaps from the grooves with spectacular solos from Joe Henderson, Hubbard, Herbie Hancock and Benson over the rhythm section of Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette and percussionists Richard Landrum and Weldon Irvine.
Benson excelled on the ‘s other two tracks, especially the duet with Hubbard on ‘Here’s The Rainy Day’.
An early release on ‘s newly independent CTI label and one its defining statements.
Beyond The Blue Horizon (1971)
Following the death of Wes Montgomery in 1968, Creed Taylor saw Benson as his natural successor and recorded three albums with him for his CTI imprint at A&M Records in a similar highly orchestrated production style.
Due to tight cashflow at the now independent CTI, there was no budget for orchestration and so the was recorded with a small lineup featuring organist Clarence Palmer, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jack DeJohnette.
This uptempo and funky take of Miles Davis’ modal classic from ‘Kind Of Blue’ quickly became a classic in its own right.
Producer Tommy LiPuma remembered this catchy Bobby Womack tune from a Gábor Szabó he had produced in 1970 and thought it perfect for Benson’s Warner Bros Records debut.
Womack was invited to the studio to play on the track but his poor physical condition that day led to his rhythm part being wiped and replaced by Phil Upchurch’s bass tracked with , while incorporating Womack’s answering lick that LiPuma felt ‘really made the track happen’.
With a flawless performance by Benson, and Claus Ogerman’s simple and supportive orchestration, this track along with ‘This Masquerade’ helped make the ‘ one of the biggest selling albums of all time with sales of over eight million records.
This Leon Russell from the ‘Carney’ was originally planned to be recorded as an instrumental. It was only when Benson began along with the track in the studio that LiPuma decided to record it as a vocal.
There was only one take, and Benson’s immaculate vocal performance was mistaken by many radio listeners as a new Stevie Wonder record!
It certainly didn’t hurt; the record went to #1 on the US , R&B and .
The Of All
The Greatest O.S.T. (1977)
Written by Michael Masser and recorded as the main theme for the Muhammed Ali biopic ‘The Greatest’, this features a wonderful vocal performance, and became one of Benson’s most loved recordings as well as a major international hit.
Weekend In L.A. (1978)
Recorded live at The Roxy on Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, this version of the Mann & Weil Leiber & Stoller 1963 hit for The Drifters showed Benson and his band at their relaxed best in a medium sized club venue.
Benson’s scatting along with his soloing is bluesy and his voice is soaring; he never sounded better – something recognised with a for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.
The band – Phil Upchurch, pianist Jorge Dalto, synth player Ronnie Foster, bassist Stanley Banks, drummer Harvey Mason and percussionist Ralph MacDonald are equally great, as are the audience who make themselves heard, especially after the line ‘I can play this here !’
Give Me The Night
Give Me The Night (1980)
Produced by Quincy Jones and written by Rod Temperton (‘Thriller’, ‘Boogie Nights’ ‘Off The Wall’), this disco track was a major international hit and demonstrated how Benson’s universal appeal allowed him to compete successfully in any style or direction he wanted to take.
Based around Greg Phillinganes’ keyboards, Abraham Laboriel’s bass and John Robinson’s drums with backing vocals by Patti Austin, Benson oozes style and fits the setting perfectly.
You Can Do It (Baby)
Nuyorican Soul featuring – Nuyorican Soul (1997)
This collaboration between and Masters at Work (DJ/Producers Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez and ‘Little’ Louie Vega) was released as a 12″ single and was the closing track from the ‘Nuyorican Soul’ that also featured collaborations with Roy Ayers and Jocelyn Brown.
Released on Gilles Peterson’s Talkin’ Loud label, it created a big impact thorough club and radio play, introducing Benson to a new younger demographic at a time when he was concentrating on playing at major concert venues to older audiences.
His and playing sound as fresh and vital as ever here, and the three minute intro of solo is incredible.
Thanks for joining us for this trip though 10 performances by a awards. who, perhaps, started out but ended up as an A-list international star, with a stream of in the and 10
The label ‘Discover Jazz’ is attached to articles which have been edited and published by Jazzfuel host Matt Fripp, but have been written in collaboration with various different jazz musicians and industry contributors. When appropriate, these musicians are quoted and name-checked inside the article itself!