*George Benson’s music and songs have become our own personal soundtracks, whether we’re driving along the coast or playing cards with friends in the back yard. As ‘Breezin’ fills the air – a summer time ambiance is born (BTW, if you scroll down, you can watch George perform that ditty).
Benson offers no less at his live concerts. Jazz devotees will fill the Hollywood Bowl for the 32nd Playboy Jazz Festival on Sunday, June 13 as the master guitarist returns for his sixth visit.
Coming off an extensive tour in England, Benson is anticipating the nearly 18,000 fans at one of the largest outdoor jazz festivals in the world.
“That place (Hollywood Bowl) is different because it holds so many people. It’s in an area that has a feel of ‘the other’ New York – the warm, outside New York. But, it would be very difficult to do in New York because there are no big venues like that except an arena or something on the outskirts of town, but not in the heart of the city where you can see the stars and the sky. And, it’s a great sounding venue with a design that accommodates an orchestra. It’s also historic. You even see it in cartoons,” Benson chuckled.
Although the 10-time Grammy winner cut his first album about 40 years ago, he shows no signs of slowing down. After the Festival, Benson will make his way up the coast to Canada for another cross-country series of performances. Road trips and international gigs are nothing new to jazz performers. Internet piracy has forced artists of other music genres, who previously depended on CD sales, to now travel extensively for live concerts. Yet, the business of music has changed for jazz artists in other ways.
“The days are gone when you can make a record just to say ‘Hey, I made a record,” reflected Benson, “or, ‘my record is just as good as John Coltrane’s; or as an artistic venture.”
“We still make records that we think reflect our abilities. We keep that part of the business separate and when we go on tour we expect that to be successful. If it’s not, then we can’t keep a band together. And, without a band, this particular sound that people know and love will not be successful.”
What has remained the same is that Benson and Playboy Jazz fans have a long-standing mutual admiration. Benson’s explanation is simple, “It’s all about the relationship with the audience.”
Benson was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and began his career at age 8 as a singer, dancer and ukulele player. He advanced to the guitar as a teen and by the age of 21, he had already performed with musical legends Wes Montgomery, Herbie Hancock and Jack McDuff. During this time, Benson focused on honing his instrumental skills, temporarily shelving his vocals. Benson’s relationship with his audience soared when his album ‘Breezin’ (1976) became the first jazz album to achieve platinum status.
His recordings began to incorporate more of his vocals, ‘The Greatest Love of All,’ ‘On Broadway,’ ‘Give Me The Night,’ ‘Masquerade,’ and ‘Turn Your Love Around.’
With a discography of over 30 recordings since 1964, Benson continues to appeal to a wide range of ages and tastes. He is equally respected by the straight-ahead jazz audience as well as the pop/R&B fans – not an easy task. What’s next for the acclaimed musician?
“I think that I might do something with a Latin flavor.”
We can’t wait.
In the meantime, check out some classic George Benson music below as he performs “On Broadway” and “Breezin.”