In 1976 George Benson was voted by several popular polls and jazz polls as the industry’s number one jazz guitar player. In the course of that very same year world-wide sales of his recording “Breezin” passed the 2,000,000 mark. Since that time Benson has become one of the most successful pop singers of the day. The majority of Benson’s current record album sales are to a non-jazz audience who purchase his recordings for his singing and distinctive guitar sound. Yet there is no doubt that through these recordings he has opened the ears of quite a few of his fans to his high-quality jazz guitar playing. Because of this Benson has produced an interest for them to listen to other jazz guitarists
Benson’s stepfather, Thomas Collier, was a fan of Charlie Christian. He tutored Benson to perform songs on the ukulele at an early age. By the time he was 8 Benson was already working in nightclubs with his stepfather, singing, dancing and also performing on the ukulele. In 1954 he commenced to explore the guitar, borrowing guitars at close friends’ homes and afterwards playing an electrical guitar made for him by his stepfather. In the same year Benson cut his initial album for a rhythm and blues label. By the time he was seventeen he was already leading his own rock and roll band. After hearing albums by various jazz artists, such as those of Hank Garland, Grant Green, Charlie Parker and in particular the late Wes Montgomery, Benson was now prompted to turn his music expertise towards jazz!
In 1962 Jack McDuff, on the recommendation of Don Gardner, hired Benson. This association lasted for 3 years. Performing with McDuff provided Benson beneficial experience playing with top jazz artists. In 1965 he started his own quartet featuring Lonnie Smith on organ. After the death of Wes Montgomery in 1968, Benson was an obvious preference for record producer Creed Taylor to fill the gap for A & M Records left by Montgomery’s early death. Taylor hoped that Benson’s guitar sound, so equivalent at that time to Montgomery’s would also attain popular success for A & M. Creed Taylor’s preference would prove right, but the success did not actually transpire until 1976 when Benson’s Warner Brother’s record “Breezin” surpassed the highest album sale that Wes Montgomery had ever achieved.
A talented and highly successful singer, Benson’s guitar style on his pop record albums is generally a combination of jazz, funk, soul and rhythm and blues. Some of his recent recordings possess a robust jazz content and these display that George Benson remains as one of the most excellent jazz guitarists of the day who can play amazing single note and chordal improvisations. His special ability to play improvised lines on the guitar in unison with his ‘scat’ singing is quite distinctive. George Benson’s 1990 record with the Count Basie Band indicates that he is determined to keep his contact with the world of jazz!