Personalities | George Benson | Smooth Jazz Superstar | Guitar Heroes

Jazz and R&B star George Benson (b. 1943) seemed destined for a respected but low-key career in cool jazz until he adopted a funky hybrid of jazz and soul for the 1976 album Breezin’.

Driven by accessible instrumentals and a smash reworking of Leon Russell’s ‘This Masquerade’, the album made Benson the biggest star to cross over from jazz to pop since Stan Getz in 1962 with ‘The Girl From Ipanema’. Benson followed up with successful albums that helped create the smooth jazz genre.

Benson was born and raised in Pittsburgh. He started out playing straight-ahead instrumental jazz with organist Jack McDuff. At 21, Benson recorded his first album as leader, The New Boss Guitar (1964), with McDuff on organ. Benson’s next recording was It’s Uptown With The George Benson Quartet (1965), with Lonnie Smith on organ and Ronnie Cuber on baritone sax. This album showcases Benson’s talent in constructing swinging bebop lines at blistering tempos. Benson followed it up with The George Benson Cookbook (1966), also with Smith and Cuber.

Benson recorded with Miles Davis in the mid-Sixties, and for Verve, A&M and CTI. He made several albums with guest artists and attempted to follow in his idol Wes Montgomery’s footsteps by recording jazz versions of pop albums like Abbey Road and White Rabbit. In 1975 he signed with Warner Brothers, and then came Breezin’.

On the strength of ‘This Masquerade’, which was the first single to top the pop, R&B and jazz charts simultaneously, Benson became a star. He followed up with the hits ‘On Broadway’, ‘Turn Your Love Around’ and others. Benson accumulated three other platinum LPs and two gold albums at Warner. In the ensuing 30 years he travelled the world and recorded and performed with orchestras and a host of music stars.

In 2009, Benson was recognized by the National Endowment of the Arts as a Jazz Master, the highest honour awarded in the US for jazz. During 2009, he recorded the album Songs And Stories, with bassist Marcus Miller and David Paich and Steve Lukather of Toto.

Benson originally played a Gibson L5 and later developed an association with Ibanez, playing one of the signature models (GB10 or GB200) which they developed for him.

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