Veteran musician George Benson is often loved for his enthusiasm and deft improvisation. Though he’s known primarily as a jazz musician, his sound cuts across various musical genres, keeping things fresh. With a string of albums and eight Grammies behind him, Benson talks to us about Jack McDuff, his latest release and his coming concert.
You worked with Jack McDuff in the early ’60s. How influential is he to your music?
Wow. That’s a long time back! I thought this interview is about me? And now we’re talking about him? (Laughs) But seriously, Jack Mcduff gave me the foundation in improvisation. Improvisation can be anything. It’s your interpretation of the song, when you improvise from bar to bar, and sometimes that can lead to a lot of meaningless notes that don’t necessarily tell a story. He told me how important blues was. He said, “If you play a blues lick every now and then, everybody will listen and understand. You can play that in China and people will take notice!” I’ve put that to the test, and he was right. So I always make sure I put some blues licks in everything I play. It works very well. It brings the tune to life and gives it a reality.
Yes, we noticed that blues influence. Though you’re primarily known as a jazz musician, your music has elements of R&B and pop as well. What other genre do you hope to experiment with next?
I find that every country has a kind of music that is purely its own. I pick up bits and pieces of things from different places. That’s what kept music interesting… I like classical and flamingo. I’m now stealing things from both genres to put into my music.
What do you think could have contributed to your staying power?
I listen to what’s going on around the world. I listen to young people because they are the future. They tell us where their hearts and minds are. But I have a lot of experience, and I played with a lot of older masters. I think I am able to connect these different generations together in a way that people can appreciate. I like what I do, but I also like what others have done.
Let’s talk about your latest release Giving It Up. You and Al Jarreau go back a long time way. Why release a collaboration CD only now?
We’ve wanted to do that for a long time and we finally got around to it. The reason that we didn’t get to it earlier is that, it is only after many years that we are back in the same record company. We started off at Warner Bros. together, and went off to other companies separately after that. The fact that we’re back in the same company is a catalyst to making that album.
Tell us more about your coming concert. What can the uninitiated look forward to?
Well, in my experience when I stick to what people know about me, people are happy. So we’ll make sure we have plenty of that. We know how to have a good time. We’ll be bringing the older songs to a new level of interest, playing the new things I’ve discovered, and more. I have a formidable band with me and we know how to make people happy!