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Night Lights Classic Jazz

Before Broadway: George Benson In The 1960s

In the 1970s George Benson was a crossover star with a smooth pop style, but he’d already established a legacy as a jazz guitarist brimming with talent.

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  • Benson It

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    Photo: album art

    "It's Uptown," George Benson

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    Photo: David Brent Johnson

    George Benson

In the 1970s George Benson became a crossover star with vocal hits and a smooth-sounding pop/ R&B style. Years before, though, he’d already established a legacy as a jazz guitarist who brimmed with energy and talent.

Benson’s History

A child-prodigy singer from Pittsburgh, George Benson honed his jazz chops on guitar with Brother Jack McDuff‘s organ combo in the early 1960s, before being signed to Columbia Records by legendary talent scout John Hammond. Albums like The George Benson Cookbook and It’s Uptown are early signposts along the path of Benson’s movement beyond his early influences like Charlie Christian andWes Montgomery. These albums help make the case for a parallel to another performer, as writer Richard Ginnell notes: “Benson is the guitar-playing equivalent of Nat King Cole – a fantastic pianist whose smooth way with a pop vocal eventually eclipsed his instrumental prowess in the marketplace.”

The Night Lights Show

Before Broadway features Benson as a leader and with organists McDuff and Jimmy Smith in straightahead, hard-cooking soul-jazz settings from the 1960s. We’ll also hear his interpretation of Miles Davis‘s “So What” from his standout 1971 CTI jazz album Beyond the Blue Horizon. Jazz critic Gary Giddins describes Benson’s playing from this era as “lean, [filled with] hungry dissonances, offhanded energy, whistling articulation, and arpeggiated flourishes.”

For More About George Benson: Read guitarist Bobby Broom‘s rundown of his 12 favorite George Benson jazz-guitar moments.

Music Heard On This Episode

Willow Weep for Me (excerpt)
George Benson — It's Uptown (Sony, 2008)
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Willow Weep for Me (excerpt)
George Benson — It's Uptown (Sony, 2008)
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Will You Still Be Mine?
George BensonBrother Jack McDuff — George Benson/Brother Jack McDuff (Prestige, 2007)
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Clockwise
George Benson — It's Uptown (Sony, 2008)
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Eternally
George Benson — It's Uptown (Sony, 2008)
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Ready 'n Able
George Benson — The George Benson Cookbook (Sony, 2008)
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Return of the Prodigal Son
George Benson — The George Benson Cookbook (Sony, 2008)
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What's New
George Benson — Compact Jazz (Polygram, 1990)
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Billie's Bounce
George Benson — Compact Jazz (Polygram, 1990)
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Tuxedo Junction
Jimmy Smith — The Boss (Verve, 2004)
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So What
George Benson — Beyond the Blue Horizon (Mosaic, 2007)
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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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  • Al Rearick

    Another great show! I love this era of Benson, especially his two Columbia LPs. There was a third album he did for Columbia under Dr. Lonnie Smith’s name called FINGER-LICKIN’ SOUL ORGAN which, to my knowledge, has yet to see the light of day in the digital era. Heck, finding it on LP is proving just as difficult. Thankfully, the folks at Wounded Bird have (or are going to shortly) re-issued the 2-LP comp called BENSON BURNER which features tracks from all three LPs, plus additional tracks not only unavailable on the original LPs, but also unavailable on the Benson CD re-issues, making this comp essential. I’ve got the 2-LP set and there are some tracks on there that are unfreakinreal, stuff that could’ve/should’ve taken the place of the vocal tracks on the original LPs. Well worth seeking out! (Also, here’s a link to Doug Payne’s blog and an article he wrote about BURNER: http://dougpayne.blogspot.com/2011/07/george-benson-benson-burner_10.html

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