Sunday, May 26, 2013

Profiles in Jazz: George Benson - Breezin'

Back in 1976, I was all of 9 years old. Little did I know, it would become one of the most influential years in my music life. Some of the best albums of all time topped the charts that year, including Chicago's Greatest Hits, Eagles Greatest Hits, Fleetwood Mac and Frampton Comes Alive.

However, none were more influential than Breezin' by George Benson.

As we get older, we rely on music to vividly transport us back in time to the deeply meaningful and powerful emotions of our childhood. Nothing can trigger the flood of memories, feelings, emotions and sensations quite like it. The long ago sights, smells and tastes are suddenly fresh, present and alive again when the right song comes on. It's magical, irresistible, and it's why we can never stop listening to music from this era of our lives.

So, if my girl Haley Reinhart is kinda sick of me nagging her all the time to make a jazz album, she should redirect her complaints to George Benson, who more than anyone else is responsible for piquing my jazz interest to begin with.

Anyhow, safe to say Breezin' is one of those albums that are transformative. Listening to Benson's gentle guitar licks on Affirmation and Breezin' (the title tack) always brings me back to summertime memories of childhood, with sunny days, beaches, windows down, and just enjoying life. Something about the cool, smooth tone Benson can produce on his guitar I find absolutely captivating and mesmerizing.

Of the six tracks on Breezin', This Masquerade is the song that to this day remains the most representative of Benson's full music repertoire. It's 8:03 of sheer brilliance (forget the horribly cropped, 3:21 version released to radio as a single), as Benson for the first time introduces his gift for guitar scatting and soulful vocals while still fully executing his masterful jazz guitar work.
In this vain, Breezin' represented somewhat of a shift for Benson, who before this time had been a traditional jazz guitar virtuoso in the style of his hero Wes Montgomery. Breezin' would be the same, yet as I've outlined, also very different. Benson would take some heat from the old school jazz crowd for this bow to mainstream music, but his blasphemy was certainly rewarded.

Produced by Tommy LiPuma, this was Benson's debut album for the more pop-oriented Warner Bros Records after spending a decade jazz label hopping with only middling success. Adding R&B/Pop sounds, strings, and a bit of disco to form what would become known as jazz fusion, this blending of contemporary styles would define his career as much as his brilliant jazz guitar work.

What makes Breezin' so special is that they achieved the optimal balance in the fusion. In subsequent albums, Benson would become increasingly pop/R&B oriented until the 90's when he (thankfully) began returning to his jazz roots again.

Obviously, many others agreed with me, as Breezin' to this day remains the top selling jazz album of all time, selling over 3 million copies. It also won 3 Grammys, and revolutionized the jazz fusion genre. In short, GB absolutely nailed the right sound at the right time.

Side note: The record producer for the lovely (OK, gorgeous) and talented Pia Toscano is Harvey Mason Jr. Well, his dad, Harvey Mason Sr., is a longtime drummer for George Benson, and was, in fact, the drummer on Breezin'. I would love to hear Pia and George duet sometime, so if the Masons can make that happen I'd be a most appreciative Poo.

Anyway, the success of Breezin' would pave the way for talented and creative artists like Chuck Mangione and Spyro Gyra to find huge popularity in the late 70's with their own jazz instrumental fusion sound. Unfortunately, a horrible seed would later be spawned from this otherwise wonderful music development: The proliferation of the dreaded Smooth Jazz virus. This nauseating genre would bring us decades of empty elevator music from vomitatious artists like Kenny G, and, sadly, there's no sign of a cure for this plague.

In conclusion, the music on Benson's Breezin' is both period recognizable and timeless at the same time.  In my mind, it's the perfect introductory jazz album for those not ready for the hard stuff. If it's not already in your collection, make sure you add it because if not you're a total loser.

Breezin' track list: 
1. Breezin' - 5:40
2. This Masquerade - 8:03
3. Six To Four- 5:06
4. Affirmation - 7:01
5. So This Is Love - 7:03
6. Lady - 5:49

Kenny Poo out.


  1. You keep on riding Haley about doing jazz, Poo!! She was born to be a jazz singer. George Benson is one of those artists everyone loves, whether they love jazz or not. He's just so cool. I'm a couple years older than you, and remember when this album came out everyone bought it. Thanks for refreshing the memories!!


    1. Glad you liked it, Janey. You're right, I've never met anyone who doesn't like GB. Oh, and I'll stay on Haley, don't you worry. ;)