George Benson - photo by Michael Sherer
With George Benson releasing his first record exactly fifty years ago, he has enough material to play for at least week straight. In terms of selecting hits though, they began ‘76, with Benson’s breakthrough smash record, ‘Breezin’, which has sold over 10 million copies. This, by th way, makes it the best selling jazz type music of all time, although it’s quite pop infused. Benson opened with its title song, and delved into a trove of more hits from there. They included: ‘Give Me The Night’, ‘Love X Love’, ‘Turn Your Love Around’, ‘This Masquerade’, ‘On Broadway’, ‘Moody’s Mood For Love’, ‘Love Ballad’, ‘Lady Love Me (One More Time)’, ‘Nature Boy’, ‘Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You’ and ‘The Ghetto’. Benson, 71, is a guitar master and can still play at a very high level. His main guitar, a pearl white signature GB 10 by Ibanez, was the only guitar he played. It looked striking against his blue suit.
Known for his singing almost as much as his playing, his voice had some rasp and has lost some of it’s upper range. This happens to many singers, so it’s no surprise. Benson didn’t speak a lot, perhaps to save his voice. He did talk about the first time he came to NYC to perform in the early ‘60’s, meeting BB King for the first time, and a couple of other antidotes.
While Benson often plays and sings at the same time and makes it look easy, it actually isn’t. There’s an excellent back up guitarist with him, Michael O’Neill, who both embellishes Benson’s playing and plays most all the guitar on the couple of songs that Benson mostly only sang to. For these Benson also danced a bit and moved around much more than while playing.
All of the band are superb. Bassist Stanley Banks has been with Benson since ‘75. On drums was Khari Parker. Pianist, keyboardist and band leader was David Garfield. Additional keyboards were played by Thom Hall. Liliana de los Reyes played percussion and provided soulful background vocals. She also sang lead while Benson was off the stage until he returned for his encore. Benson played for a good hour before returning for that, this time in a white suit. The first song he played was On Broadway, which had many in the club on their feet as they were literally just off Broadway in this Times Square venue. Most everyone was surely very happy to know they had experienced a guitar legend that still has the goods to loom large in a city that has seen it all.