In 1961, jazz guitarist George Benson got his break through an unexpected opportunity. Hammond organist Brother Jack McDuff was passing through with his trio minus the guitarist. Benson was immediately recommended to fill in and he ended up “subbing” for the next three years while undergoing the most challenging phase of his jazz guitar music career. Though he had a superb sense of time and a deep groove, his harmonic and melodic knowledge was lacking and he did not know how to read music! With McDuff’s constant encouragement Benson studied hard and acquired the necessary skills. In the meantime he met jazz guitar music giants Kenny Burrell, Jim Hall, and Wes Montgomery. Wes became virtually a mentor to the young, up and coming guitarist. Prestige Records took notice of his impressive jazz guitar chops and in 1964 Benson recorded “The New Boss Guitar of George Benson With the Brother Jack McDuff Quartet”. The publicity and critical acclaim persuaded him to go it alone and he formed his own quartet in 1965. Along with most other jazz musicians of the time, the group scuffled in the clubs until Columbia Records talent scout extraordinaire John Hammond heard him and signed him to the major label. Preferring to feature him as a vocalist during those trying times for jazz, Columbia had him sing several tunes on his two albums. In 1967, Benson left Columbia for Verve Records where he recorded two albums.
Still looking for an empathetic label, in 1968 he joined A&M Records where he became a stable mate with Wes Montgomery. Wes had interceded on his behalf with producer Herb Alpert and Benson ended up making three albums for the new and promising label. His producer was Creed Taylor, who had engineered Wes’s unqualified commercial success by having him play pop tunes with ear-pleasing octaves. A similar path was taken with Benson (to the same critical consternation that followed Wes Montgomery’s “sellout”) and when Taylor split in 1970 to form his own CTI Record label, Benson was taken along for the ride.
The concept of CTI Records was revolutionary. Instead of treating jazz as some esoteric art reserved for the jazz music elite, Taylor approached it with a pop sensibility. He got the best young jazz men around and had them play standards, contemporary tunes and originals and sweetened the arrangements with orchestral backing tracks. He then wrapped the music in visually striking, glossy artwork on the album covers. The results were amazing. CTI records sold ten times the amount of most previous jazz releases! Fortunately for aspiring guitarists, George Benson has released several jazz guitar music tab books that feature many of his recorded guitar solos and instructional DVDs where he teaches his jazz guitar techniques as well as his harmonic concepts.
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