George Benson in 1986 at Montreux Jazz Festival

George Benson is one of the most influential and versatile guitarists in the history of jazz music. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, March 22 1943, Benson began his musical career as a young boy, singing and playing the ukulele. By the age of eight, he had already made his first professional recordings, and by the time he was a teenager, he had become a skilled guitarist, playing with some of the top jazz musicians of the time, one of which was Wes Montgomery.

Montgomery praised his impressive skills and encouraged him to pursue his passion. In the early 1960s, Benson trained under the tutelage of organist Brother Jack McDuff, where he honed his craft and developed his signature style. McDuff’s dynamic and spirited swing provided the perfect backdrop for Benson’s audacious and self-assured guitar riffs, which quickly established him as a virtuoso in his own right.

Benson’s early career was marked by a series of critically acclaimed recordings, including The New Boss Guitar and The George Benson Cookbook. These albums showcased his unique style of playing, which blended elements of jazz, blues, and soul music. Benson’s virtuosity on the guitar, combined with his smooth, silky voice, quickly made him one of the most sought-after performers in the world of jazz.

Throughout the 1970s, Benson continued to build on his success, releasing a series of albums that pushed the boundaries of jazz music. His 1976 album Breezin‘ became a massive commercial success, earning him a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. The album’s title track, a smooth jazz instrumental, became a radio hit and cemented Benson’s status as one of the top jazz guitarists of his generation.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Benson continued to evolve his sound, incorporating elements of funk, R&B, and pop music into his compositions. He worked with a variety of high-profile artists, including Quincy Jones, Whitney Houston, and Miles Davis, and his collaborations with these musicians helped to expand his fan base even further.

In addition to his work as a guitarist and vocalist, Benson has also been an influential mentor and teacher to younger musicians. He has taught at the Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music, and has worked with a wide range of talented young musicians over the years.

Benson’s legacy as a jazz guitarist and musician is cemented for all time. His innovative style and virtuoso playing continue to inspire generations of musicians, and his influence can be heard in the work of countless jazz and pop musicians around the world. As he celebrates his 80th birthday today, George Benson remains an active and vital force in the world of music, and his contributions to jazz and popular music will continue to be celebrated for many years to come.