Jazz

Pete Cal­lard looks at the mul­ti­tal­ented Ge­orge Benson’s ear­lier jazz solo­ing style.

Guitar Techniques - - Contents -

This month and next we’ll be ex­plor­ing the solo­ing style of one of the great­est and most suc­cess­ful of all jazz artists: Ge­orge Benson. Benson’s dual ca­reer as both vir­tu­osic jazz gui­tarist and mul­ti­plat­inum sell­ing singer have led to com­par­isons with Nat King Cole - co­in­ci­den­tally a hero of Benson’s.

As a gui­tarist Benson emerged from the shadow of Wes Mont­gomery, where he pro­gressed from hard bop, swing and soul-jazz stylings in the 60s, to smoother, more groove-based mu­sic dur­ing the fol­low­ing decade.

It’s these two dis­tinct eras of his play­ing that we’ll be ex­am­in­ing, and we be­gin this month with the early part of the great man’s ca­reer.

Ge­orge Benson was born in Pitts­burgh on March 22nd, 1943. Start­ing on ukulele, which suited his young hands, he was play­ing in a lo­cal night­club when he was seven years old. He moved to gui­tar at age eight.

De­spite his in­stru­men­tal tal­ents, it was as a singer that Benson first gained na­tional ac­claim. He re­leased his de­but record­ing - She Makes Me Mad, for RCA Vic­tor - as ‘10-year old singing sen­sa­tion’ Lit­tle Ge­orgie Benson.

Fol­low­ing this, and mind­ful of the per­ils of chid­hood star­dom, Benson’s mother in­sisted on him step­ping back from the lime­light to en­joy a nor­mal child­hood. At the age of 15, and sport­ing a $23 gui­tar built for him by his step­fa­ther, Benson and his cousin formed a singing group called The Al­taires. But on hear­ing the play­ing of Char­lie Chris­tian, Wes Mont­gomery and Char­lie Parker he switched to jazz. In 1962 he joined the band of or­gan­ist Jack McDuff and went on to re­lease his de­but al­bum as leader in 1964. The New Boss Gui­tar came out on Pres­tige records when Benson was just 21 years old. Form­ing his own band in 1965, Benson went on to re­lease It’s Up­town and The Ge­orge Benson Cook­book for Columbia in 1966. He also col­lab­o­rated with Miles Davis, fea­tur­ing on Para­pher­na­lia from his 1968 al­bum Miles In The Sky. Benson moved to Verve Records in 1967, then be­gan work­ing with pro­ducer Creed Tay­lor in 1968 at A&M, then CTI in 1971, which saw him record­ing with larger en­sem­bles and all-star bands. He also recorded a ver­sion of The Bea­tles’ Abbey Road, called The Other Side Of Abbey Road, in 1969. Dur­ing this pe­riod he worked with nu­mer­ous artists in­clud­ing trum­peter Fred­die Hub­bard and sax­o­phon­ist Stan­ley Tur­ren­tine.

This month’s ex­am­ples fo­cus on the ‘changes based’ side of his play­ing. They pose chal­lenges due to Benson’s phenom­e­nal speed and fa­cil­ity. There are nine ex­am­ples cov­er­ing mi­nor and ma­jor II-V-Is, blues se­quences, dou­ble-time ideas, chro­mati­cism, note flur­ries, mo­tifs, su­per­im­posed arpeg­gios, in­ter­val­lic ideas and ‘out­side’ play­ing.

Have fun with these, and join me next month when we’ll be ex­plor­ing the more groove-based (and hope­fully less de­mand­ing) side of the Ge­orge Benson style.

I have been do­ing mu­sic all my life, so ev­ery day when I get up I ex­pect mu­sic will be part of it. Ge­orge Benson

Ge­orge Benson: phenom­e­nal jazz tech­nique

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