Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for readers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!


George Benson at Denver Botanic Gardens

Geoff Anderson By

Sign in to view read count
George Benson
Botanic Gardens
Denver, CO
August 31, 2016

NEWS FLASH: George Benson's gone pop! OK, maybe that one's about 40 years late. I even knew that at the time it happened, having purchased the Breezin' album (Warner Brothers, 1976) when it first came out. But, over the years, through careful picking and choosing and focusing on his older material, I've mainly been listening to his jazz side.

Nevertheless, I knew that a George Benson concert would include a lot of crooning. But after about the fourth song in a row with the word "love" in the title, I was having trouble holding my head above the swirling saccharine. But the crowd loved it! "Turn Your Love Around" inspired an avalanche of white heads to the front of the stage for an impromptu mosh pit, er, uh, I mean dancing! Yes, dancing at a jazz concert! How often does that happen?

So love was in the air, love was turning around, love was multiplied by itself (love squared?), love is what we got, love didn't change, George felt like making love, he was in the mood for love and he wanted to love us one more time. Whew! I hadn't felt so desirable since the last visit from the Jehovah's Witnesses. Sample lyrics "Love is in the air/Love is everywhere." Awwww....

Benson opened the show with "Breezin,'" a tune that may be a little too happy for its own good, but still, it provided a vehicle for Benson to display his jazz chops. And make no mistake, these have been formidable chops for decades now and they still are. The next tune, "Love X Love" officially started the love-fest, but the guitar and the chops were still front and center. The third song, "At the Mambo Inn," jazzed things up and let the chops shine. But then, love overwhelmed the program, Benson put down his guitar, and with it, his jazz chops, and made love with the microphone.

As love song after love song oozed from the stage, the guitar and the jazz chops watched in silence, forlorn, forsaken, forgotten...In silence, the guitar gently wept. It was a guitar with the blues.

An early bluesman, Son House, once said, "Ain't no blues but the kind of blues between a man and a woman." And why did the man and the woman have the blues? It wasn't because they were enraptured with the kind of love Benson sang about again and again Wednesday night. No, it was because of the dark side of love; the lyin,' the cheatin,' the heartbreak, the sunset of love as opposed to the dawn of love which was Benson's focus.

But the crowd loved it! They were happy! They were dancing! They most decidedly did NOT have the blues. Love sells.

Fortunately, it wasn't a one-way trip to popdom. Benson put the jazz train back on the tracks and, to the delight of the jazz lovers in the audience and of course to the delight of the guitar and the jazz chops as well, Benson picked up his guitar several times throughout the evening. A jazz highlight was "Moody's Mood for Love." During the song, he talked about its composer and asked how many people knew about James Moody. Tepid response. Sigh. Well, it just wasn't that kind of audience. "The Ghetto" by Donnie Hathaway was a kicking tune that blew the powdered sugar off the double glazed donuts and replaced it with a little bit of grit. Yum!

The first encore song was the instrumental "Give Me the Night" where Benson uncorked one of his trademark scat/guitar sequences. He had thrown those in a number of tunes through the set and clearly they were some of the highlights of the evening. The closer, "On Broadway," was a hit for Benson around 38 years ago and provided another platform for stretching out, particularly because he needed to show why the song applied so much to him, "They're dead wrong/I know they are/'Cause I can play/This here guitar." Cheers!

Not surprisingly, Benson's band was top notch. It featured two keyboard players (one to play organ and piano parts and the other to add synthetic strings and such), bass, drums, another guitar and a percussionist. Most of them provided backing vocals too. Even when the love got thick as roofing tar, the band kept its groove on.

At 73, Benson is still in fine shape in both voice and guitar ability. Of course, he's always been a good looking guy too. Wednesday night he wore leather pants and at one point put his hands behind his head and executed a little hip thrust sending squeals and twitters through the female audience members. A stud at 73. Maybe all those love songs are worth it.

Set List: Breezin'; Love X Love; At the Mambo Inn; Nothing's Gonna Change My Love For You; Turn Your Love Around; Feel Like Makin' Love; In Your Eyes; Kisses in the Moonlight; Shiver; The Ghetto (Donnie Hathaway cover); Don't Know Why (Norah Jones cover); Guitar scat, Something about love; Never Give Up on a Good Thing (Love is What You've Got); Moody's Mood for Love; Lady Love Me One More Time; Encore: Give Me the Night; On Broadway


comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Lean On Me: José James Celebrates Bill Withers @ NYC Winter Jazzfest Live Reviews Lean On Me: José James Celebrates Bill Withers @ NYC...
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: January 15, 2018
Read Carl Bartlett, Jr. at Jazz At Kitano Live Reviews Carl Bartlett, Jr. at Jazz At Kitano
by Keith Henry Brown
Published: January 13, 2018
Read Kurt Rosenwinkel at Chris’ Jazz Café Live Reviews Kurt Rosenwinkel at Chris’ Jazz Café
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: January 2, 2018
Read Terence Blanchard at Christ Church Cranbrook Live Reviews Terence Blanchard at Christ Church Cranbrook
by Troy Dostert
Published: December 29, 2017
Read Gary Peacock Trio at the Regattabar Jazz Club Live Reviews Gary Peacock Trio at the Regattabar Jazz Club
by Nat Seelen
Published: December 27, 2017
Read "Gary Peacock Trio at the Jazz Standard" Live Reviews Gary Peacock Trio at the Jazz Standard
by Mike Jurkovic
Published: November 14, 2017
Read "Soule Indomitable at Nectar's" Live Reviews Soule Indomitable at Nectar's
by Doug Collette
Published: April 2, 2017
Read "Matthew Shipp Trio at SFJAZZ" Live Reviews Matthew Shipp Trio at SFJAZZ
by Harry S. Pariser
Published: December 19, 2017
Read "Bryan Ferry at the Paramount Theater" Live Reviews Bryan Ferry at the Paramount Theater
by Geoff Anderson
Published: August 19, 2017