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George Benson

A household name ever since scoring a Top 10 hit in 1976 with “This Masquerade,” George Benson is not only a popular singer but also one of the finest guitarists in jazz history. Born in Pittsburgh in 1943, Benson actually made his first records as a singer, four selections in 1954 when he was 11. At that point, Benson had already been performing in nightclubs for three years. He took up the guitar a little later and in 1960 formed a rock band. Soon, influenced by Charlie Christian and Wes Montgomery, he discovered jazz, although he always had his own musical personality. In 1962 Benson started an important three-year stint with Jack McDuff’s band, playing nightly opposite saxophonist Red Holloway. Their menu of blues at various tempos, ballads, funky jazz and soulful numbers with an occasional standard became Benson’s basic repertoire when he formed his own group in 1965.

He recorded two excellent albums for Columbia in the mid-1960s, guested on Miles Davis’ Miles in the Sky and appeared on sessions as a sideman. His work for Verve, particularly after Wes Montgomery’s death in 1968, cast him as a fill-in for the late guitarist. However his recordings for CTI during 1971-76 include some of his finest work on guitar. In 1976 Benson debuted for Warner Bros. with the album Breezin’. He had only rarely sung during the previous decade and just one tune on Breezin’ has a vocal, but “This Masquerade,” on which Benson scatted in unison with his guitar, caught on with the public in a big way. From then on, George Benson’s career was turned around and he became a singer who also played guitar. His output became R&B-oriented, he had hits with “On Broadway’ and “Give Me the Night,” and sometimes his guitar was only used for variety. But Benson has never lost his abilities as a jazz improviser. Whether recording with McCoy Tyner, the Count Basie band, with Al Jarreau (Givin’ It Up) or in pop settings, George Benson is always a stand out and a crowd pleaser.