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The re­mark­ably tal­ented, di­verse and pro­lific Ge­orge Ben­son is, says John Wheatcroft, much more than just a mu­si­cian’s mu­si­cian.

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

John Wheatcroft delves into the playing of a jazz gui­tar ti­tan - the awe­some Ge­orge Ben­son.

Born in Pitts­burgh, Penn­syl­va­nia in 1943 Gerge Ben­son started early, per­form­ing live on gui­tar and ukulele be­fore he was even 10. He served his ap­pren­tice­ship as a teenager with or­gan­ist Jack McDuff and recorded his first solo al­bum, The New Boss Gui­tar, just as he reached his 21st birth­day.

Ge­orge was a mem­ber of Miles Davis’ band in the mid ‘60s, fea­tur­ing on the al­bums Para­pher­na­lia and Miles In The Sky. Ben­son con­tin­ued his solo ca­reer with re­leases for both Creed Tay­lor’s CTI la­bel and Warner Brothers. In 1976 he recorded the mas­sively suc­cess­ful al­bum Breezin’ which won him three Gram­mys, for Best In­stru­men­tal Per­for­mance, Best R&B Per­for­mance and Record Of The Year.

Ben­son’s ca­reer has been stag­ger­ingly suc­cess­ful, di­verse and pro­lific. He has amassed a le­gion of fans across the world and has gained the ad­mi­ra­tion of gui­tarists across all gen­res and gen­er­a­tions. His ded­i­ca­tion to his craft has re­mained true through­out his ca­reer and even when his mu­sic has shifted to­wards a more pop, soul or R&B di­rec­tion, his com­mit­ment to stay­ing on top of his for­mi­da­ble jazz chops and his cham­pi­oning of the jazz genre has re­mained con­sis­tent. Still a reg­u­lar on the New York jazz scene he fre­quently jams with up-and-com­ing play­ers, en­sur­ing his playing is on top form at all times. Oh, and did I men­tion that he has an in­cred­i­bly soul­ful, ex­pres­sive and down­right funky singing voice too?

Ben­son’s playing has pas­sion, com­mit­ment and what he refers to as a sense of reck­less aban­don. His tone is warm and full but there is an edge and at­tack to his de­liv­ery that gives his sound vi­tal­ity. His main in­flu­ences in­clude Wes Mont­gomery, Grant Green and Pat Martino and there’s a fair bit of blues in his sound, due to his enor­mous ad­mi­ra­tion of the great BB King. He’s also fa­mous for his re­mark­able scat singing, lit­er­ally singing along with his im­pro­vi­sa­tions with tremen­dous dex­ter­ity, ex­pres­sion and ac­cu­racy.

The fol­low­ing eight ex­am­ples are typ­i­cal of what Ge­orge might play when im­pro­visat­ing. It’s a great idea to learn th­ese lines as writ­ten; then, once you’ve got the idea un­der your fin­gers why not try singing along while you play, just as Ge­orge might do? You’ll de­velop a much stronger con­nec­tion to the mu­sic this way, in­ter­nal­is­ing the rhythms and melodies much more or­gan­i­cally. Once you’ve tried th­ese ideas, adopt a sim­i­lar strat­egy with your own im­pro­vi­sa­tions. Even if you don’t ac­tu­ally sing the notes out loud, just think­ing in this way can im­prove the mu­si­cal con­tent of your playing enor­mously. As al­ways, have fun…

It’s not all about the tech­nique. It’s about get­ting your point across and mak­ing a mem­o­rable Im­pres­sion Ge­orge Ben­son

NEXT MONTH John ex­am­ines the playing style Nat King Cole’s fine guitarist, Os­car Moore

Ge­orge Ben­son with one of his Ibanez GB sig­na­ture mod­els

Ge­orge’s sig­na­ture Ibanez has been his gui­tar of choice for al­most four decades. Strings are medium gauge flat­wounds with a .14 first string. Am­pli­fi­ca­tion is a solid-state Poly­tone for warmth and a Fen­der valve combo for speedy re­sponse and punch. Aim for a clean, bal­anced tone and pick a lit­tle closer to the neck pickup to achieve some­thing close to Ben­son’s fat but ar­tic­u­late sound. Go easy on the re­verb.

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