"Just to be mentioned in the same breath with the most incredible musicians of our time is an honor in itself. Many of these greats are my personal friends and inspired me to become the musician I always hoped to be. I am truly honored to be recognized as an NEA Jazz Master as well."
Appreciated as both a musician and performer, George Benson plays the dual role of expert improviser and vibrant entertainer. Rounding out his singular approach with a strong sense of swing, he is considered one of the greatest guitarists in jazz.
Benson began his career as a guitarist working the corner pubs of his native Pittsburgh. Legendary jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery came across Benson early on, complimenting him and urging him to continue his already impressive work. In the early 1960s, Benson apprenticed with organist Brother Jack McDuff; he found the organist's gritty swing a fertile ground for the sly, confident, and adventurous guitar lines that earned him an early reputation as a master.
By the time legendary talent scout John Hammond signed Benson to Columbia, the guitarist's name was becoming known throughout the industry. In the late 1960s he sat in on Miles Davis' Miles in the Sky sessions, and also put a personal spin on the tunes from the Beatles' Abbey Road. Joining the CTI label in 1970, Benson was united with many of jazz's finest instrumentalists -- including Stanley Turrentine, Ron Carter, and Freddie Hubbard -- and released classic albums, such as Beyond the Blue Horizon.
Despite his success, Benson's desire to combine his singing and guitar playing was blocked until he worked with music producer Tommy LiPuma. The result was Breezin', the first jazz record to attain platinum sales. The 1976 blockbuster, his first in a long association with Warner Brothers Records, brought Benson to the attention of the general public with such hits as his soulful rendition of Leon Russell's "This Masquerade," which featured the guitarist scatting along with his solo break. He followed up with many pop hits, including a sultry version of "On Broadway" and the irresistible "Give Me the Night" (produced by Quincy Jones).
In the mid-1990s Benson followed LiPuma to the GRP label where they released three well-received albums highlighting Benson's vocal and guitar prowess. In 2006, Benson and vocalist/songwriter Al Jarreau released Givin' It Up with Benson's current label, Concord Music Group.
Benson has won ten Grammy Awards, thrilling many crowds around the world with his performances, including appearances at Malaysia's 50th Merdeka celebration and the Mawazine Festival in Morocco.
The New Boss Guitar of George Benson, Prestige/OJC, 1964
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal