Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Versatile George Benson

George Benson (guitar; b. 1933)

While you may know the name, George Benson, you may only be familiar with his material from the 70s and 80s which is a little more fusion/pop sounding. Yet during the '60s George Benson created some phenomenal recordings that would rival many of his contemporaries on other instruments. All jazz guitarists owe almost everything to Charlie Christian (the godfather of Jazz guitar); George Benson used Christian's influence to take the music in another direction just as fellow guitarists Grant Green and Wes Montgomery did. Benson's multifaceted musicianship allowed him to move freely between genres and garnered both high praise and sometimes unwarranted derision. Benson began his career playing and singing R&B and later touring and session work with the likes of Jack McDuff and Miles Davis respectively. In the early '60s he started is his own band and recorded some early dates on the Prestige label which showed great promise of things to come.

That promise would materialize on one of my favourite George Benson's best albums, It's Uptown (Columbia Records), is the perfect example of that classic jazz sound most listeners fall in love with. It's Uptown has a wonderful bebop vibe to it that this very free flowing and includes excellent contributions from Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Lonnie Smith (organ) and King Curtis (sax) to name a few. It's contains a few vocal tracks that compliment the arrangements quite well.

As his sound continued to develop, Benson would eventually incorporate vocals into his repertoire full time. This would result in the '70s and '80s pop hits "The Masquerade", "Give Me The Night" and "On Broadway" for which some readers may know him. But if you really want to know how great George Benson is I suggest you start with his earlier straight ahead jazz sessions.

While It's Uptown is a great album to purchase might I also suggest, The Essential George Benson (Legacy Recordings) which covers allot of ground (Prestige, Columbia and Warner Brothers) including sessions with organist Jack McDuff to Miles Davis. A well deserved and well representative overview that any jazz fan will enjoy. Check out this very interesting version of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five."

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