I love hanging out with George Benson. He loves music and he loves life. And he unapologetically enjoys the finer things in life. Walking through George’s estate outside of Phoenix, Arizona, you marvel at the material signs of his success: gold and platinum records hanging on the walls, the Maybach car in the garage. But you also marvel at the fact that no matter where you are in the house, there’s always a guitar within reach. George practices all the time. This is one pop star who never stops working on his craft.
For the jazz community, George Benson represents possibly the most dramatic version of what happens when one of its major figures “crosses over” and becomes a part of general popular culture. Other artists like Louis Armstrong, Wes Montgomery, Herbie Hancock and, more recently, Robert Glasper come to mind, but I think the closest comparison to GB would be one of his heroes, Nat King Cole. Like George, Nat was an incredibly influential musician, performing instrumental jazz for years with his King Cole Trio before he made the “mistake” of opening his mouth to sing a song. His vocal gift was undeniable, creating a world of unimagined opportunities for a musician from Montgomery, Alabama in the 1940s.