Tickets: $75 / $65 / $55
Appreciated as both a musician and performer by millions, George Benson has always had the dual role of expert improviser and vibrant entertainer. He has consistently placed his keenly discerning art in the service of a rousing good time. Rounding out his singular approach with sly, seductive rhythm and blues, he’s earned himself an impeccable reputation as one of music’s most enterprising and engaging stars.
Few might have predicted that striking level of stardom some forty years ago, when Benson was a fledgling guitarist working the corner pubs of his native Pittsburgh. That’s where his yen to please a crowd was born. “I was an entertainer first,” he says proudly “As a kid I sang, danced, and played the ukulele in a nightclub. As my career has progressed, I’ve had the pleasure of playing with the baddest jazz cats on the planet. But that doesn’t change my desire to entertain folks That’s really who I am.”
It was Wes Montgomery, one of jazz’s most creative players, who came across Benson early on; the vet complimented the young guitarist, urging him to continue his already impressive work. In the early 1960s, Benson apprenticed with organist Brother Jack McDuff; he found the organist’s gritty swing a fertile ground for the sly, confident, and adventurous guitar lines, which earned him an early rep as a master.
By the time legendary talent scout John Hammond signed Benson to Columbia, the guitarist’s name was bubbling throughout the industry. His work for the label proved Hammond’s hunch to be on-target: brains and flash were in perfect synch.
Hooking up with the CTI label in 1970, he was united with many of jazz’s finest instrumentalists, including Stanley Turrentine, Ron Carter, and Freddie Hubbard. His visibility and prestige grew even further. Classic albums, such as Beyond the Blue Horizon, abounded. But after a while different ideas began to flow from Benson’s muse. And the environment didn’t seem right for growth.
These days Benson’s interests are many. He’s often spotted out at Manhattan jazz clubs, checking the action of fledgling guitarists. The most impressive of the lot are sometimes invited back to Benson HQ for jam sessions and stylistic powwows. The guitarist is resolute about keeping the sparkle in his playing.