A charismatic George Benson thrilled journalists with stories, speaking openly and with ease on his arrival at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, taking a trip down memory lane.
He described his earliest days as a musician, as a “speed-demon” guitarist, and traced how it was that he learnt to slow down.
“I see a whole new South Africa. It’s nice to see the sun shining on a lot of people’s faces here, it’s a warm feeling and a whole fresh new vibe.”
Benson was honoured with an official multi-platinum award from Universal Music for Africa for sales of more than half-a-million units and a gold award from Warner Music Gallo for the Givin’ It Up album he recorded with Al Jarreau.
“I told my manager to call Al Jarreau and let him know that something very special is going to go down in South Africa and congratulate him, so can I take that back to him? I really thank you for this award.”
With a sold-out Cape Town jazz festival, more than 16 000 jazz fanatics were due to attend the first night of the festival last night, where Benson was to play with a 28-piece orchestra in a tribute to Nat King Cole.
“(Cole) brought a lot of class to African-American musicians, at the time going through some challenges in the US. His music was some of the biggest crossover of his time, and it’s still fresh and high-class today.”
Benson is one of the few musicians who get to play on both days of the festival. One of his musical highlights, he says, was being commended by Sinatra.
“I found out he was a gigantic fan of my voice. I was like, ‘Can anybody say anything else to me now’?”