George Benson

George Benson stepped into the jazz spotlight in 1964, leading the Brother Jack McDuff quartet on a foray into blues, bebop, and R&B on The New Boss Guitar of George Benson. A veteran sideman of McDuff’s group, the 21-year-old guitarist revealed himself to be a fluid soloist with a swinging style he’d developed listening to Charlie Christian and Wes Montgomery.

But at the core of Benson’s jazz style was a bluesiness that had taken root during his early days of gigging around his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Benson would further refine his soul-jazz formula on The George Benson Cookbook and It’s Uptown with the George Benson Quartet, also revealing an impressive vocal ability that would ultimately make him a household name among mainstream listeners.

Between Benson’s early jazz records and 1976’s Breezin’—a brilliantly crafted, multi-million seller that essentially ushered in the smooth-jazz genre—lies a wealth of incredible guitar albums, especially those produced by Creed Taylor for the CTI label. Taylor had been the architect of Wes Montgomery’s biggest albums on the Verve label, and, after forming CTI in 1970, he did everything in his power to present Benson as the rightful heir to the Montgomery throne. Taylor’s goal of balancing artistic and commercial needs proved particularly successful for Benson, who recorded some of his finest work for CTI. These instrumental albums are showcases of Benson’s phenomenal guitar prowess, and they are high-water marks in the long career of this incredibly influential artist.