1. Royal Albert Hall – Show Review

    June 29, 2012 by admin

    George Benson - Royal Albert Hall - London 2012

    George Benson, Albert Hall – review

    Backed by a meaty, well-drilled group, Benson delivers a judicious mixture of jazz standards and the big-selling lurve-songs his fans demand.

    Jack Massarik

    Photo Credit: Nanni Zedda

    It takes a true star to fill the Royal Albert Hall on a European Cup semi-final night, something George Benson achieved with customary aplomb. True, the majority of his fans are female and of certain ages but most of their menfolk were also present.

    By the close everybody was out of their seats and swaying to the Benson beat with an upstanding, body-popping, hand-clapping abandon that would have astonished their osteopaths.

    Earlier, American trumpeter Christian Scott had smartly opened the show with a Dizzy Gillespie tip-tilted trumpet and a terrific drummer named Jamire Willliams in his youthful quartet. They deserved more than their 45 minutes in the spotlight.

    George himself appeared a little thicker around the waist than usual but gave a thoroughly compelling performance, singing and simultaneously playing guitar as soulfully and creatively as only he can.

    His current album, Guitar Man, is supposed to signal a return to the jazz fold but in large venues like this, commercial factors also apply.

    Backed by a meaty, well-drilled group featuring two keyboards, bass, rhythm guitar and drums, Benson paced the evening cleverly, delivering a judicious mixture of jazz standards and the big-selling lurve-songs his fans demand.

    Moody’s Mood for Love, Breezin’, Mambo Inn and This Masquerade — a particularly powerful version — were thus interleaved with Turn Your Love Around, In Your Eyes, Never Give Up on a Good Thing and other soul hits, climaxing inevitably with Gimme the Night.

    At this point a nearby hen-party of five mature ladies with complicated hairdos began jiving in line abreast. There’ll be some sore ankles in Epping this evening.

  2. Chicago Times Show Review

    April 5, 2012 by admin

    He’s still got it.

    Though his 70th birthday arrives next year, singer-guitarist George Benson epitomized youth and exuberance Friday night at the Chicago Theatre, where he tore through his hits at faster tempos and higher energy levels than a large and enthusiastic audience may have been expecting.

    Better than that, Benson somehow found new insights in very old songs, delivering them with a freshness one doesn’t often encounter from major performers who have been revisiting their classics incessantly through the decades.

    Yet Benson was ill served by a harsh, over-amplified sound system that often denied listeners the opportunity to savor the subtleties of a richly nuanced, gravelly voice. Throughout his intermissionless set, Benson frequently found himself competing with an over-miked band, its waves of sound washing over the voice that everyone had come to hear.

    Not that Benson himself was particularly pleased with his vocal work early in the show.

    “I’m just warming up, you guys,” Benson told the crowd at one point. “My voice ain’t there yet — but it’s gonna’ get there!”

    Actually, inasmuch as one could focus on Benson’s vocals amid the din, he proved musically quite effective from the outset, though definitely somewhat raspy of tone. But in performers of Benson’s vintage, the inexorable deepening and darkening of an instrument often adds to its appeal, bringing new colors and textures to a voice already quite familiar around the world. Certainly that was the case this time.

    Benson ostensibly was performing in support of his newest release, the aptly titled “Guitar Man,” but the show dipped just sporadically into that repertoire, instead amounting to something of a greatest-hits parade. When the hits come from Benson’s lips and lungs, however, they’re worth hearing once again.

    Exactly how Benson managed to find so much more to say in the inevitable “On Broadway” – which gave the evening an extended, grand finale – might have been a mystery, except for one incontrovertible fact: Before Benson became a crossover star he was a hard-core jazz musician and, in many ways, he remains one.

    So Benson improvised melodic flourishes and melismatic turns of phrase, taking “On Broadway” away from its familiar contours and reshaping it to suit the moment. Though this performance lacked the thrilling, sustained, unstoppable crescendo of the famous recording, Benson’s spontaneous re-imagining of “On Broadway” offered something else: vocal and guitar fireworks with an intensity and heat that simply never let up.

    Earlier in the evening, Benson appeared to surprise his audience – judging by its muted response – with “Moody’s Mood,” a tour de force of jazz singing. Artistically, this was a high point of the evening, Benson referencing his jazz credentials with a profoundly personal response to saxophonist James Moody’s classic “Moody’s Mood for Love.” Here was a melody line that bounded up and down the scale with abandon, Eddie Jefferson’s celebrated lyrics applied to Moody’s intricate saxophone solo. Only the most accomplished jazz vocalists dare sing the tune – particularly in the wake of Moody’s own revered version – but Benson finessed its twists and turns with seeming effortlessness and a distinctive interpretation.

    Benson also looked back to more of his hits, from the buoyant guitar work of “Breezin'” to the imploring vocals of “Turn Your Love Around” to the slow-and-soulful musings of “This Masquerade,” the latter performed with palpable fervor.

    Throughout, Benson made his way around his guitar quite dexterously, but especially in an unlikely version of the folk song “Danny Boy” (from the “Guitar Man” album), his poetic solos – complete with twangy notes and droning pedal points – evoking a distant time and place.


    Twitter @howardreich

  3. European Summer Tour

    February 27, 2012 by admin


    We just added a tour dates for this summer’s European tour with stops in the UK, Paris, Stuttgart and Hungary.  More information can be found here.

  4. Guitar Man wins NAACP Award for Best Jazz Album

    by admin

    awards show

    Congratulations to all that made Guitar Man, the Best Jazz Album at the 43rd Annual NAACP Awards show.

  5. 43rd NAACP Image Awards

    January 20, 2012 by admin

    Congratulations to all involved in the making of Guitar Man.  It was announced today that Guitar Man has been nominated for Outstanding Jazz Album.  Catch the broadcast on Feb. 17 LIVE 8/7C on NBC.

    More info on the awards can be viewed here.

  6. Guitar Man – New album, free download and new tour dates!

    August 8, 2011 by admin

    Guitar Man is out on October 4, 2011! It’s available to pre order now on Amazon. Click here to check it out on Amazon.

    Guitar Man will also be available at iTunes on October 4, 2011 + there will be a special deluxe edition with bonus tracks available only at Best Buy, also on October 4!

    Enter your email address above to get a free MP3 download of “Danny Boy” from George’s upcoming album Guitar Man

    For Immediate Release – On October 4, 2011, National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master and Grammy-winning legend George Benson brings his guitar to the forefront in his newest album Guitar Man. The 12-song collection includes a mix of jazz and pop standards – some in a combo setting and some solo, but all of them tied together seamlessly by Benson’s soulful and exploratory signature sound. Lending a hand on this recording is a solid team made up of veterans and newcomers alike – pianist Joe Sample, keyboardist and musical director David Garfield, bassist Ben Williams and drummer Harvey Mason. Williams is one of the hottest up-and-coming new artists on the jazz scene. Mason is a regular member of Fourplay, and a studio collaborator with Benson all the way back to Benson’s 1976 blockbuster album, Breezin’.

    In a career that spans five decades, more than 30 recordings as a leader and ten Grammy Awards, Benson has used his jazz roots as the foundation for an engaging mix of pop, R&B and other shades that add up to a style that appeals to a broad mainstream audience. Along the way, he has also established himself as a formidable jazz singer – one whose biggest career hits have showcased his vocals. But Guitar Man is just what the title implies – an album that highlights Benson’s unparalleled guitar playing, perhaps more than any other album he has released in decades.

    For the new project, the crew came together in the studio with a minimum of prior rehearsal time but an eagerness to jump in and lay down tracks in something very close to the live experience – what Benson describes as an “old school” approach. The impromptu sensibility comes across in the final product, much of which came together with minimal takes in a single day of recording.

    “We figured that we would get the best energy if we went into the studio with some live musicians who are savvy and flexible,” says Benson, “and boy, did we accomplish that.”

    On Guitar Man, Benson’s mastery of the guitar is demonstrated in a variety of styles and settings, all with legendary jazz roots. The opening track “Tenderly” is a solo guitar track that serves as a reminder that Benson is one guitar man with sufficient technical and interpretive skills to be a band unto himself. The second song is an intriguing rendition of Lennon and McCartney’s “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” Along with Benson on nylon-string guitar and Garfield on piano are guitarists Paul Jackson Jr. and Ray Fuller; bassist Freddie Washington; drummer Oscar Seaton, Jr. (who regularly tours with Benson); violinist Charlie Bisharat; and flutist/clarinetist Dan Higgins. All come together to create a fully orchestrated sound that casts one of the most simplistic of the Beatles’ early love ballads into something full-bodied and engaging.

    The remainder of the set consists of either solo guitar tracks or Benson backed by the aforementioned five-man team, which lays down an easygoing rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour.” Benson delivers the lyrics in his own engaging vocal style that includes a healthy dose of his trademark scatting guitar accompaniment.

    Other highlights include a rollicking version of the Champs’ 1958 instrumental hit, “Tequila,” followed a couple tracks later by “My One and Only Love,” which opens with a 16-bar solo jazz guitar intro that segues into a sweet vocal ballad. Benson delivers a playful straightahead rendition of “Paper Moon” with the quartet, followed by a solo guitar rendition of “Danny Boy” (one of the few times, if ever, that a guitar sounds like bagpipes). In the final stretch, Benson and Garfield set up a lush guitar-and-piano arrangement of the smoky standard, “Since I Fell For You,” with Benson once again stepping up to the mic for an emotional delivery of the song’s impassioned lyrics.

    Benson has never been one to shy away from innovation or experimentation. For this guitar man, putting a jazz spin on pop standards – not just on this recording but throughout his career – is less of a taboo when you’re willing to dispense with labels and the limitations that come with them.

    “People categorize things because they need to find someplace to put them on their shelf,” he says. “It’s all music to me. I think a lot of pop tunes that were very big in the United States many years ago were recorded by jazz musicians playing in the background. Most of the Motown records were recorded that way. Those guys were jazz musicians who were living in Detroit and were called to do a job, and they did it very well…I try to do the same thing. I try to make it sound like it’s natural, because to me it is. There are only two kinds of music, good and bad. There are a lot of things in between, but they’re eventually going to fall on one side or the other of that equation.”

    George Benson will be touring in support of Guitar Man. The live shows will feature Benson’s masterful guitar playing, and Benson and his band will be performing classic George Benson hits along with an acoustic presentation of a few songs from Guitar Man.

    Confirmed dates below (additional dates TBA):

    Oct. 1 – Austin, TX – The Riverbend Centre

    Oct. 2 – St. Louis, MO – Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center, University of MO

    Oct. 14 – Phoenix, AZ – Sage Court, JW Marriott

    Oct. 16 – Atlanta, GA – Symphony Hall

    Oct. 19 – Englewood, NJ – Bergen Performing Arts Center

    Oct. 20 – Morristown, NJ – Morristown Civic Center

    Oct. 21 – New York City, NY – Town Hall

    Oct. 23 – Glenside, PA – Keswick Theatre

    Click here for a  free download of “Danny Boy” from Guitar Man.