A class act

Consummate crooner George Benson has had a lifelong love affair with music.

George Benson 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
George Benson 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It doesn’t happen very often, but on Thursday night local music fans will be offered a trio of tantalizing and varied options of world-class talent from abroad: the multicultural, classic folk rock of Paul Simon at the Ramat Gan Stadium; the roots reggae of Ziggy Marley, who’s headlining the Road to Zion Festival at Sacher Park in Jerusalem; and the jazzy pop stylings of guitar master George Benson at the Caesarea Amphitheater.
It doesn’t seem like a wrong choice can be made, with each musician being a consummate entertainer, none more so than the 67-year-old Benson, who topped the charts in 1976 with his album Breezin’ and its hit “This Masquerade,” and whose memorable tunes include “Give Me the Night,” “ Lady Love Me” and “Turn Your Love Around.”
Whether heralded for his sterling guitar chops or his emotive vocals, Benson has been perfecting his blend of jazz, r&b and pop for more than four decades on his way to 10 Grammy awards. And he’s done it with class.
A devout Christian and father of seven, who has been married to the same woman, Johnnie, for 46 years, Benson has evolved into a guru of love similar to the likes of late contemporaries Barry White and Luther Vandross. But he’s done focusing on the romance part, not the sex part, an approach he sees rapidly disappearing in contemporary music.
“Why can’t you have a song that sneaks up on you, suggests ‘it’ even, without having to spell things out?” he asked in an interview last year with the Telegraph upon the release of his album Classic Love Songs. “MTV is becoming like a porno channel now. It is using us African Americans in a barbaric sense.
People think that because you come from ‘the jungle,’ you can’t do romance because only clever people can do romance. That is simply not true.”
Benson’s take on romance derives from his love affair with music, which began as a child in Pittsburgh, where he became enamored with the guitar. By his teens, he was playing jazz in clubs, enthralled by the mastery of soloists like Wes Montgomery and Charlie Parker. By the mid-1960s, he had been signed to Columbia Records as a jazz instrumentalist and played on sessions for a number of other artists, including Miles Davis on his 1968 opus Miles in the Sky.
However, Benson’s career really took off when he added his vocals to the mix and created the jazzpop hybrid. Breezin’ became the first jazz blockbuster and set the tone for most of his work through the 1970s and 1980s. In recent years, he’s returned to his instrumental roots more, but his live shows reflect the diversity and love he possesses for the music he makes and interprets, a process that he says ensures he’ll never get bored by it.
“Music is too incredible of an experience for me. There’s always someone new coming along with a fresh idea that turns the music inside out and changes the way we listen and think. There’s always someone out there – someone we’ve never even heard of yet – with a new song and a new story,” he said.
“In the end, it’s about the songs and the stories. That’s what keeps the music fresh for me. That’s what keeps me coming back. If you come up with a great melody and put the right lyrics to it, I’m immediately excited.”
Backed by his veteran five-piece band, Benson will surely pass on the excitement on Thursday night in Caesarea.