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George Benson: Finding His Groove In Inspiration

Belinda Ware By

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I felt every moment of it. You can’t put together a record like this without putting your heart into it. I got that from Nat King Cole. He put his heart into everything he did. —George Benson
George Benson is a quintessential master of jazz whose professional musical career continues to flourish over decades due to his charisma, wit, showmanship and a succession of multiple hit record releases that are foundational in the evolution of contemporary jazz.

As a seasoned jazz connoisseur, Benson stays in demand as a sought after performing artist as seen in his steady concert schedules taking to the stage in countries around the world. Simply put, Benson is on a mission to keep jazz current through his innate talent to innovate the sound of jazz both in studio and in the live concert arena. In both voice and guitar work, his improvisational grooves are innovative raising the bar on the unlimited nature of the music while taking it to a new platform and style of expression in today's rhythm and sound.

It is fitting that Benson has earned the title of a pioneer in the world of jazz with his triumphant achievement in crossing traditional jazz over into the pop market, initially with his Billboard hit, This "Masquerade," a song that led to his first platinum album, Breezin. (Warner Bros., 1976). As a live performing artist, he has amassed international public appeal through his unique gifts in jazz improvisation. Looking at his work on guitar, Benson is known for attacking the melody of a song with blazing impromptu runs while harmonizing his smooth R&B vocals sometimes mimicking his guitar solos in the form of scat. No show is ever a carbon copy of another. He is a musical icon characterized by his masterful skills in taking his hits and making them new in each performance.

As a recording artist and NEA Jazz Master, he has won 10 Grammy Awards as a jazz front man for his crossover solo hits including the popular tunes, "On Broadway," "Being with You," "Give Me the Night," and "This Masquerade." At the core of his conceptual originality, Benson is a purist when it comes to the art of studio recording sessions remaining true to his original flavor of the jazz sound.

As a self-taught jazz guitarist, Benson can be described as an artistic genius of melodic and chordal improvisation fused with the humility of a man passionate about the art of jazz. He can pick up a Gibson L-5 guitar and make it scat like Ella Fitzgerald on single-note melody runs. He credits some of the unfolding of his musical gifts to the life changing moments he experienced hanging out and jamming with a few jazz greats of legendary stature early on in his career, mentors such as the incomparable Jack McDuff, Wes Montgomery, John Coltrane, and Stanley Turrentine.

From the inception of his walk down Jazz Lane, Benson found his sound to involve the combination of his dual talents as both a jazz musician complimented by his jazz/soul vocals. It was through his initial recording sessions in studio as a child that he developed his instinctual ability to breathe life into songs capturing the poignant emotion of the human experience through his artistry as a singer, musician, and lyrical storyteller.

Benson currently has a new CD that has been in the making for quite some time. It can be described as deeply personal in its presentation. This CD represents a harmonious celebration of the songs and legacy of the first musical icon that influenced Benson to embrace his inner musical talents and pursue jazz during his childhood.

Inspiration (Concord, 2013) tells the real life story from childhood to present of Benson's respect and admiration for the musical catalog of the legendary Nat "King" Cole and how his exposure to the hit records of Cole helped to shape his destiny to follow the path of jazz as a professional artist.

As a child, Benson looked up to Cole with the admiration of a personal hero. In a recent interview with Benson, he spoke about the impression Cole made upon him. "As a child, it was exciting for me to listen to the music of Nat "King" Cole. He could sing and play piano with depth and originality. His music touched my heart and helped me to see what was inside of me while embracing his rich purity of sound," said Benson.

Benson saw Cole's musical talent as an inspiration to open up and explore his own inner talents that would soon emerge culminating into the jazz front man he is today.

Looking at the careers of both Cole and Benson, Cole's influence upon Benson is notably enlightening. Running parallel in line with Cole's path in music, Benson established himself as an exceptional instrumentalist on the jazz scene at the inception of his career. Like Cole, Benson later became heralded as a jazz/pop pioneer whose unforgettable singing voice captured the attention of the world crossing over cultures and generations in his ongoing career successes. His triumph in jazz is signature to his lasting appeal to audiences of all ages around the world.


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