PART I.  There has been only one player through modern pop and jazz history who consistently plays amazing solos, no matter the style: George Benson. Who but George could play on disco tunes (Weekend In LA double album), blazing his way through the changes, and play an impossibly fresh and exciting solo every time, even as we re-listen to it today? Who but George can cover the Beatles songs (The Other Side of Abbey Road) and leave us not caring 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, as only a few other jazz artists, has the power, virtuosic technique, and gift to performin any style and have his unique character and emotive brilliance heard, and in a convincing manner. 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 are the excitement and passion we hear in his playing; in those ultra-fast clean lines, dripping with blues references and double-stops [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, even Black Church music. 

Benson is arguably the heir-apparent to the jazz guitar throne that Charlie Christian and Wes Montgomery occupied. What modern guitarist is complete if he/she has not studied George’s unique vocabulary at least a little bit? Here are a few classic George Benson phrases to get you started! 

Watch for more Benson phrases in Part II.

* 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.


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