Guitarist George Benson began his career on promising ground in the '60s; he was a jazz player with easy facility on the fretboard who followed the lead of one of his heroes, Wes Montgomery, by mixing jazz with pop and soul. Benson took a sharp directional turn after 1976, when his crossover album Breezin' struck paydirt on the charts, driven by his version of Leon Russell's song, "This Masquerade." With more than seven million albums sold to date, the album has become the best-selling jazz album of all time. Yet some would argue with its status as a jazz album in the first place, a controversy which has followed Benson's career ever since.
Born in Pittsburgh, Pa., on March 22, 1943, Benson was at home with R&B as well as jazz from an early age, having recorded as a singer for an R&B label at age 11. A dazzling mainstream jazz guitarist who counted Wes Montgomery and Tal Farlow among his chief influences, Benson entered the jazz guitar world working with organist Jack McDuff, and later recorded with Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard and Billy Cobham. He also appeared on Miles Davis's 1968 album, Miles In The Sky, ironically just before Davis ventured into his electric period. From the start of his solo career, Benson created accessible blendings of jazz and pop. Still, Benson's effortless command of his instrument is undeniable, as heard in small---sometimes frustratingly small--doses on his albums.
In the late '90s, Benson continues to follow a dual path, playing to large crowds on the jazz festival circuit, but also working within the ever-changing R&B field. His 1996 album for GRP, That's Right, was mostly recorded at Paisley Park studios, owned by the Artist Formerly Known As Prince, and an upcoming project was produced by Paul "Bluey" Maunick of Incognito.
This Biography was written by Josef Woodard