At various points along the four-decade continuum of George Benson’s career, he has been heralded as a jazz guitarist of unparalleled chops, a vocalist with great emotional range and sophistication or a combination of both. However, he regards himself as an entertainer in the broadest sense of the word – a singer of songs, a spinner of tales. That’s the essence, Songs and Stories.
“It’s a very simple equation,” the National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master says of the longevity of his career and the ten Grammy Awards that have punctuated it along the way. “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.”
That excitement is evident in his new release, Songs and Stories, due August 25, 2009, on Concord Records / Monster Music. The album is a collection of tunes penned by some of the most prolific and enduring songwriters of the last half-century, including James Taylor, Smokey Robinson, Lamont Dozier, Bill Withers, Donny Hathaway and several others. Some were written specifically for this new recording, while others were hand-picked by Benson for their ability to convey simple but universal truths about the human experience.
Songs and Stories was produced by Concord exec VP of A&R John Burk and renowned bassist / composer Marcus Miller. Benson, Miller, keyboardist Greg Phillinganes, guitarist Jubu and drummer John Robinson make up the core unit for the project. They were joined by special guests: guitarists Lee Ritenour, Steve Lukather, Wah Wah Watson and Norman Brown, vocalists Lalah Hathaway and Patti Austin, keyboardist David Paich, saxophonists Tom Scott and Gerald Albright along with several others. “Brother, with that team, you can do just about anything,” said Benson. “We recorded in the studio for three days straight, and everything we touched had something on it that made us all glad we were there. It was just the right mix of people and material. Once we realized that, the challenges disappeared. It just became an exercise in great joy. We were happy to jump on it, we knew we were going to get something special, and that’s what we got.” The combined talents of these writers and musicians make for a series of unforgettable tales, and Benson himself is the narrator who weaves it all together.