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There has been only one player through modern pop and jazz history who consistently delivers amazing solos, regardless of the style: George Benson. Who but George could play on disco tunes (Weekend In L.A.) with an impossibly fresh and exciting solo every time, even as we re-listen to it today? Who but George could cover Beatles songs (The Other Side of Abbey Road) and leave us not caring about what the vehicle for improvisation is? Who but George could introduce jazz fusion to the world (Breezin’) and play solos in this genre that rip your heart out, such as “Six to Four” and “Affirmation?”
My conclusion is that George Benson, along with only a few other jazz artists, has the power, virtuosic technique and gifts to perform in any style and have his unique character and emotive brilliance come through. He has been accused of selling-out in order to profit from commercial/mainstream/ watered down jazz/pop music; yet is there any modern jazz guitarist who is more copied by young players? What we are drawn to is the excitement and passion we hear in his playing; in those ultra-fast, clean lines, dripping with blues references and doublestops – two notes played simultaneously, with one note being bent over the other pedal. His capacity for melodic improvisation over any chord changes – even the mundane I-vi-ii-V repetition in “Breezin’” – seems boundless, and is rooted in early jazz, blues, and gospel music.
Benson is arguably the heir-apparent to the jazz guitar throne that Charlie Christian and Wes Montgomery had previously occupied. What modern guitarist is complete if they have not studied George’s unique vocabulary at least a little bit? Here are a few classic George Benson phrases to get you started, and watch for more Benson phrases next month.
* A ‘slur’ mark preceding a note indicates sliding up to the target note from one fret below. Interestingly, Benson slurs to the third of the chord every time! Tonal centers are marked.
A clinician and jazz educator, Jim Bastian is a 10 year veteran of teaching guitar in higher education. Jim holds two masters degrees and has published 6 jazz studies texts, including the best-selling How to Play Chordal Bebop Lines, for Guitar (available from Jamey Aebersold). He actively performs on both guitar and bass on the East Coast.
An avid collector and trader in the vintage market, you can visit Jim’s store in Gear Search at premierguitar.com (dealer: IslandFunhouse).