Pete Cal­lard has a sec­ond look at Ge­orge Benson: this time his later, smoother style.

Guitar Techniques - - Guitar Techniques -

This month we con­tinue to ex­plore the solo­ing style of one of the great­est and most suc­cess­ful of all jazz artists, Ge­orge Benson. Last time we checked out some ex­am­ples of his straight-ahead, ‘changes’ based play­ing with which he made his mark in the 60s and early 70s. Al­though Benson never en­tirely stopped play­ing jazz and be­bop, from the 70s on­wards he be­gan to ex­plore smoother, more groove based mu­sic, and it’s his style from this era that is our fo­cus.

In 1976 Benson signed to Warner and re­leased one of the defin­ing al­bums of his ca­reer. Breezin’ fea­tured the in­stru­men­tal ti­tle track and the José Feli­ciano tune Af­fir­ma­tion, but most no­tably Benson’s vo­cals on Leon Rus­sell’s This Mas­quer­ade; a huge hit that won the gui­tarist a Grammy for Record of the Year. Along­side his solo ca­reer, Benson con­tin­ued to work with other artists in­clud­ing, in the 70s, Min­nie Rip­per­ton, trum­peter May­nard Fe­gu­son, Tony Wil­liams and Fred­die Hub­bard, and played and sang on An­other Life on Ste­vie Won­der’s Songs In The Key Of Life al­bum. In 1979 he also be­came a Je­ho­vah’s Wit­ness.

The suc­cess of Breezin’ - the first plat­inum-sell­ing jazz al­bum - led Benson to re­lease a se­ries of in­creas­ingly commercial hit records, but it was the Quincy Jones pro­duced Give Me The Night in 1980 that proved his real pop break­through, with the Rod Tem­per­ton penned ti­tle track mak­ing it into the top ten pop and R&B charts. Through the 80s Benson en­joyed huge commercial suc­cess, with his vo­cals in­creas­ingly to the fore and his gui­tar tak­ing a back­seat - in­deed, on a per­sonal note, grow­ing up in the 80s I never re­alised that Ge­orge Benson even played the gui­tar. It cer­tainly came as a shock when I first heard him! Benson re­turned to jazz for 1989’s Ten­derly, an al­bum of stan­dards, and 1990’s Big Boss Band with the Count Basie Orches­tra, and continues to record and per­form, with 2013’s In­spi­ra­tion: A Trib­ute To Nat King Cole, con­sid­ered by crit­ics to be among his finest record­ings. In 2009 Benson re­ceived the high­est award in jazz, be­ing recog­nised as a Jazz Mas­ter by the Na­tional En­dow­ment For The Arts.

This month’s ex­am­ples fo­cus on the smoother, funkier side of Benson’s play­ing that dom­i­nated his out­put in the 70s and 80s. There’s ten ex­am­ples in all, of which only Ex­am­ples 1, 2 and 6 fea­ture chord changes. The oth­ers, in keep­ing with his mu­sic of the pe­riod, are all mi­nor, dom­i­nant or II-V vamp ideas, and see Benson ex­plor­ing the rhyth­mic, har­monic, melodic and tech­ni­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties opened up to him by the lack of har­monic stric­tures. Along­side Benson’s fluid, bub­bling sin­gle-note solo­ing ap­proach we’ll also ex­am­ine some of his post-Wes Mont­gomery style oc­tave and chordal solo­ing ideas, and the ex­am­ples cover, among other things, pen­ta­tonic sub­sti­tu­tion, su­per­im­posed arpeg­gios, chro­mati­cism, pat­terns, out­side play­ing, note flur­ries and sweep and econ­omy pick­ing.

Al­though Benson never en­tirely stopped play­ing jazz and be­bop, from the 70s he be­gan to ex­plore smoother, more groove based styles.

Ge­orge Benson with his ever faith­ful Ibanez

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