CONSIDERED ONE of the greatest guitarists in jazz history and supported by an exceptional vocal style that has made him appreciated by millions worldwide, George Benson is truly a performer of incomparable versatility. With eight Grammy awards to his name and over 35 commercial releases, Benson has always had the dual personae of expert improviser and vibrant entertainer.
Benson began his career over 40 years ago, playing the local bar scene in his native town of Pittsburgh in the United States. After being discovered by jazz legend, Wes Montgomery, he rose to be one of the most called-on session musicians of the time, playing with an array of jazz greats, including Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Minnie Ripperton.
It was not until 1976 that he came to the forefront as a solo artist when he released the smash hit This Masquerade, a Leon Russell cover, sending his album sales multi-platinum, an extremely rare feat for a jazz record in that era. Ever since then, Benson has managed to be a prominent figure at the top of the jazz charts.
What makes Benson’s musicianship unique is the success he has had blending jazz, soul and pop together. Originally, his music was purely instrumental and his core following was made up of jazz enthusiasts and aspiring guitarists. However, as he began to use vocals on his records, his style transcended into something more soulful and accessible to the mainstream audience. He managed to bring elements of what had become an increasingly elitist jazz genre to popular audiences. Renowned for his unpredictable nature, Benson’s recordings have always produced something different over the years and his latest release, Irreplaceable, has continued this trend. It marks a shift back to the vocal soul music of the seventies, but with a decidedly contemporary, urban edge.
This June, Benson will embark upon a brief, three-week tour of Europe, which concludes on July 18 with a unique, intimate performance at the Vale do Lobo Tennis Academy in the Algarve. Those who appreciate jazz music will be treated to a stunning display of musical and vocal improvisation. When asked about the vibe of his live shows, Benson describes how “the easiest way to involve people is to get them tapping their feet”. Not one for rehashing studio material, Benson strives to make each performance stand out from the last, producing first class execution in everything he does.
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