Monday, February 19, 2007

Brainy Jazz Meets Gut-Level Expression

George Benson's 1976 mega-hit Breezin' helped kick-start "smooth jazz," that not-so-distant cousin of "easy listening." It also neatly divides the guitarist and singer's career into Before and After: Benson had been recording for more than a decade when Breezin' lifted him into the stratosphere, and most of those early records — including this spry date, which he recorded at age 23 — are more musically adventurous. Not surprisingly, they're also mostly overlooked.

Benson grew up in Pittsburgh and got his first break playing in trios led by torrid organ virtuoso Jack McDuff. In those groups and others he co-led with organist Lonnie Smith, Benson became a baron of boogaloo, whose solos mixed grind-it-out blues phrases with sweet, disarmingly pretty melodies. John Hammond brought Benson to Columbia to record a test single, and by the end of the session, Hammond ordered a full contract and work on It's Uptown was underway.

Read the entire article By Tom Moon at NPR

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