George Benson with special guest Chrisette Michele
NYCB Theatre at Westbury
August 14, 2015
George Benson is a multi-platinum (R.I.A.A. certified), best selling, Grammy Award
-winning guitarist and singer-songwriter. In 2009, Benson was recognized by the U.S. National Endowment of the Arts as a Jazz Master, the country's highest jazz honor. Benson was born and raised in the Hill District in Pittsburgh
, PA. A child prodigy, at 8 years of age, he was playing guitar in an unlicensed nightclub on weekend evenings. In 1953, at the age of 10, Benson, under the name "Little Georgie," released his first single ("She Makes Me Mad') for the RCA-Victor label. In the early 1960s, he was playing jazz and soul with Brother Jack McDuff and others. In 1964, at 21, he released his first solo album, The New Boss Guitar
on Prestige Records. Over the course of his career, Benson has played with, guested on albums by, or toured with Miles Davis
, Chet Atkins, Al Jarreau
, Freddie Hubbard
, Stevie Wonder, Minnie Ripperton and Stanley Turrentine
. His solo recordings have featured a virtual who's who of musical guests including: Lonnie Smith, Ronnie Cuber, David Paich, Steve Lukather, Lee Ritenour, Marcus Miller, Wynton Marsalis, Sonny Fortune, Idina Menzel, Till Brönner, Bennie Green, Hank Jones, Ron Carter, Randy Brecker, Jack DeJohnette, Billy Cobham, Earl Klugh, Herbert Laws, Kenny Barron and Herbie Hancock as well as McDuff and Hubbard.
His 1976 triple-platinum album Breezin'
(Warner Brothers) reached #1 on the Billboard
album chart. The late '70s and early '80s were a particularly fertile period for Benson. He won three Grammies
in 1977 (for Best R&B Instrumental Performance, Best Pop Instrumental Performance and Record of The Year; one in 1979 for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance; three in 1981 for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Male, Best R&B Instrumental Performance and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance; and another in 1984 for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. In 2007, he won another two Grammies
, this time for Best Traditional R&B Performance and Best Pop Instrumental Performance.
Benson is a celebrated and versatile musician. He can seamlessly move from smooth jazz, to R&B and back to straight forward jazz. His guitar playing is flawless. He can play lead or rhythm and can fit in-the-pocket with the best of them weather playing jazz, pop, funk or soul. He is blessed with a smooth soulful singing voice and he has a knack and a way with his vocal delivery.
Over the years, he has stayed busy recording for numerous labels including: Prestige, Columbia, Verve, A&M, Warner Bros., Qwest, Concord, CTI and GRP. His most recent studio albums have been released on Concord Records, including 2009's Songs and Stories
, 2011's Guitar Man
(his first primarily instrumental album in 35 years) and 2013's Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole
. In 2015, Rhino Records released The Ultimate Collection
. At 72-years-old, there is no end in sight as he continues to record and tour.
Queens-born and Long Island-bred, Chrisette Michele (given name: Chrisette Michele Payne) is an R&B singer/songwriter with a big voice. She can stunningly sing jazzy Billie Holiday-influenced torch songs and ballads as well as gospel, Brazilian jazz and slow-burning R&B.
She studied vocal and jazz performance at Five Townes College in Dix Hills on Long Island and soon began performing at open mike nights and going on auditions. She was discovered at the Village Underground in New York City by India.Arie. Michele was soon performing as Aire's opening act.
Def Jam records signed her to a contract in 2006, and in 2007 the label released her debut CD, I Am
. Michele wrote all the songs and worked with Babyface, Salaam Remi, John Legend, and will.i.am. It was an auspicious debut. The CD debuted at number 29 on the Billboard
200 Chart. In 2009 she won a Grammy Award
for Best Urban/Alternative Performance for her song "Be OK" from I Am
. Her second CD, Epiphany
(Def Jam, 2009) debuted at number 1. Her subsequent releases have all performed well. 2010's Let Freedom Reign
(Def Jam) reached number 25 on the Billboard
200. Her 2013 Motown Records album Better
climbed to number 12 on the Billboard
Charts. She recently left Motown to form her own label, Rich Hipster. Michele's next CD is scheduled to be released on Rich Hipster in November, 2015.
Michele performed first. Her show was much more than that of a placeholder or a warmup act. It was a homecoming and on any other night would have been that of a powerful headliner. Appearing in a stylish grey pants suit and sky-high heels along with two backup singers, the singer dominated the bare stage as she performed to a recorded backing track. She began by explaining that she was "a local girl from Queens. We moved to Islip, then to Patchogue and then Selden...and then I went to Five Towns College." What followed was a tour de force performance that included "Epiphany (I'm Leaving)" and "Soopa" which was dedicated to the members of the audience, after she asked if "you think you're one of the most amazing people, put your hands together."
Michele was in excellent voice and was clearly happy to be performing in her own backyard. She delivered strong performances on "Blame It on Me," Love Won't Leave Me Out" and "But I Do" (which was dedicated to anyone who ever has been in love). She was also quite talkative and funny. After one song, she quipped, "You guys have a very sophisticated clap. I can tell that you love good music." He short but formidable concert ended with a commanding threesome of songs"Charades," "Better" and the new song, "A Couple of Forevers," which she explained would be on " the new album, coming out soon...Milestones
, on my own record label, Rich Hipster, which just got signed to Capitol Records."
Her performance received a loud and long standing ovation. And, just as quickly as she appeared, she was gone (though she had to have a little help finding her way back to the dressing room as the venue's revolving stage made finding the proper aisle a little more difficult than expected).
After a short intermission, George Benson was introduced. The loudspeakers blared, "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome ten-times Grammy Award
-winning artist, George Benson." With the band situated offstage in the pit, Benson, dressed sharply in a dark suit with understated striping, was led down the ramp to the center of the arena where he was the only one on the revolving stage. It was just him, his guitar and guitar stand along with his microphone and its stand.