Grammy Award winner, multi-platinum album producer and Hollywood Walk of Fame member George Benson thrilled a packed house with his own inimitable brand of jazz at The Carolina Theatre of Durham on Thursday, Sept. 17th. Playing both his hits, as well as covers by other artists, the 72-year-old virtuoso jazz guitar player, singer, and songwriter held the audience captive from the first moment that he walked out on stage until he released them from his magical hold after a four-song encore.
One of the few headliners to entertain without the benefit of an opening act, Benson pointed out at the beginning of the show that “songs and stories … are what keeps music fresh”; and he proved it over and over again during the one-and-a-half hour concert that brought the audience to its feet several times.
George Benson began playing the ukulele and singing in Pittsburgh at the tender age of seven and started his four-decade jazz career in the 1960s as a soul, scat, R&B and jazz singer, but it wasn’t until 1976 that he came to national prominence with his multi-platinum album “Breezin’,” the first jazz album to have such a distinction. Though he had hit the charts with several other albums before “Breezin’,” it was that well-known album that allowed Benson to be a true crossover artist.
That year marked a huge step forward in Benson’s career with the Grammy Album of the Year award for his vocals on the album “This Masquerade” and toured with soul singer Minnie Riperton, and also appeared on Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” album.
With 10 Grammy awards behind him now, George Benson is justifiably the most recognizable living jazz guitarist; and he proves that by striding on stage to play a concert that included most of his greatest hits, such as “Love X Love,” “Breezin’,” “In Your Eyes,” “Turn Your Love Around,” “Kisses in the Moonlight,” and “Give Me the Night.” During the evening, he also surprised the audience with the confession that he had some Irish-Welsh heritage in his family tree; and to prove it, played the traditional version of “Oh Danny Boy,” directly followed by his own jazzy interpretation of the song, which should be a classic in its own right.
Though the audience loved Benson’s own music, one moment in the evening stood out as particularly heartwarming. Benson introduced “one of my favorite songs ever” by an artist “who’s not on the scene right now” and launched into Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman.” Benson had appeared on Campbell’s show “The Midnight Special” in 1976, and shared the stage with him on several other occasions throughout their careers.
Campbell, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, recently returned home, and is being cared for by his family. Benson’s tribute to the country crossover artist underlines the truth that the performers are part of a much larger family: the music industry.
George Benson’s performance on Thursday night had some other tender moments as well. He shared with the audience that he’s an entertainer, here to “sing for his supper,” and admits at one point that he’s not sure his voice will hold out for one of the audience’s all-time favorites: “Give Me the Night.”
Supporting the Grammy-award-winner was a backup band who are artists in their own right, including Kahari Parker, who had a boffo drum solo during “On Broadway”; Tom Hall on keyboards, Michael O’Neill on background vocals, Stanley Banks on bass guitar; and world-class musical director David Garfield on keyboards and vocals.
Benson didn’t have to worry about not pleasing the Durham audience. This is one performer who has become better with age. His guitar playing, riffs, and musicality is head and shoulders above the others in his field; his scatting is nonpareil, meaning no one else can come close to imitating him; and his singing is still strong enough that one audience member commented, “I wonder how many babies have been conceived listening to this guy sing.”
GEORGE BENSON (The Carolina Theatre of Durham, Sept. 17 in Fletcher Hall).
SHOW: http://www.carolinatheatre.org/events/george-benson and https://www.facebook.com/events/1063952726966506/.
PRESENTER: http://www.carolinatheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaTheatreDurham, and https://twitter.com/CarolinaDurham.
George Benson (Pittsburgh, PA jazz guitarist, singer, and songwriter): http://www.georgebenson.com/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/GeorgeBenson (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/GBguitar (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Benson (Wikipedia).
[RUN HAS CONCLUDED.]
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater, music, and dance reviews. She is also a writer, editor, writing coach at Reno’s Literary Services of Durham. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.