@ the HMV Hammersmith Apollo
29 June 2012
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“George Benson is undeniably one of the consummate
artists of our time and producing music of his calibre is all that
any producer can ask for…”
George Benson began his professional career singing, dancing and
playing the ukulele in nightclubs at the tender age of eight. At
age seventeen he formed a rock band using a guitar made by his stepfather.
As Benson was exposed to music by Charlie Parker, Montgomery and
Christian, his interest in jazz came as no surprise to many. In
1962 a teenaged Benson joined Brother Jack McDuff’s band.
By 1965 Benson formed his own group and was discovered by talent
scout John Hammond. Benson would record two critically acclaimed
albums of the soul-jazz and hard bop genre for Columbia as well
as being included on recording sessions with others such as Miles
Davis’ “Miles in the sky”. Benson switched to
Verve records in 1967, and shortly after the death of Montgomery
in June 1968, producer Creed Taylor began recording Benson with
larger ensembles on A&M and big groups and all-star combos on
CTI between 1971-1976. By this time Benson’s own ideas and
creativity had begun to grow. He explains:
“I’d been screaming about my guitar sound for years,
and they didn’t want to hear about it. I wanted to use my
band in the studio, just get comfortable and test out some stuff.
But it was like pulling teeth. The first time I tried to sing along
with my guitar, everybody in the studio booed. They said that it
wouldn’t work. When I got with Tommy Lipuma (Warner Brothers)
all that changed. He said ‘Sure, let’s go with some
vocals, see where we get.’ And you know what happened after
The album Breezin’ became the first jazz record to obtain
platinum sales status, with the sole vocal track “This Masquerade”
receiving substantial attention from commercial radio. Benson had
certainly reached a larger audience, but breaking new ground was
not well received by many purists:
“I guess that’s the biggest crime I’ve made
as far as jazz lovers go,” offers Benson. “They don’t
always like to see you play for the general public. They want to
be catered to. But I’ve tried that approach and it doesn’t
work for me. Nobody can stay one way for 30 years. I’ve tried
to let my experience show itself. You learn, you change. The door
opened and I walked through it.”
Benson’s commercial successes continued throughout the 1980’s,
the highlight being the Quincy Jones produced smash “Give
Me The Night”. But as the 80’s drew to a close questions
were mounting about Benson’s seemingly continued quest for
greater commercial success (if possible). Benson silenced these
critics with the release of his standards album “Tenderly”
in 1989 and the swinging “Big Boss Band” album with
the Basie band in 1990. Both albums would see the return of Benson’s
guitar to the forefront of many compositions.
Benson followed Tommy Lipuma to the GRP label in the mid-‘90s.
The two had formed a successful commercial bond that they both wanted
to sustain. In 1996, GRP released the acclaimed cotemporary jazz
album “That’s Right”.
George Benson is an eight-time Grammy Award winner who just keeps
going. He is a diverse and unpredictable artist who has influenced
musicians from varying genres.
Benson’s acclaim both commercially and within the critical
Jazz world continues. He continues to release beautifully crafted
material and sell out concerts around the globe.
© Michael Valentine Studio Ltd.