Today in Music History (January 6): George Benson records "Breezin'"

January 6, 1976 – George Benson records Breezin’

In a recording career that has spanned six decades, George Benson has proven himself one of the most influential and versatile performers in popular music. But after fourteen albums that attracted almost exclusively a jazz audience, it was his January 6-8, 1976 recording of Breezin’ that turned him into one of the most important and influential artists in the world.

January 6, 1976 – George Benson records Breezin’

In a recording career that has spanned six decades, George Benson has proven himself one of the most influential and versatile performers in popular music. But after fourteen albums that attracted almost exclusively a jazz audience, it was his January 6-8, 1976 recording of Breezin’ that turned him into one of the most important and influential artists in the world.

Discovered at an early age by jazz great (and strong influence) Wes Montgomery, Benson served his apprenticeship with organist Jack McDuff, and was signed by Columbia in the early 60s. He recorded a handful of jazz-bop albums and began to develop a sizable following in the jazz world as one of the hot young stars of the genre. But unlike what Benson described as the "brainy" jazz that Miles Davis and others were emphasizing at that time, Benson's music celebrated the danceable jazz of the 40s as well as rhythm and blues, and was both more melodic and accessible than much of the jazz sounds emanating from other artists at that time.

He continued his development on Creed Taylor's CTI label in the early 70s, but felt stifled in his desire to include more of an R&B band sound to his music. He then signed with Warner Brothers in 1976 and teamed with producer Tommy LiPuma, a move that would change both his career and the sound of jazz over the next 40 years. Their first collaboration was Breezin, a terrific blend of Soul and Jazz that took off like a rocket, fueled by Benson’s smooth cover of Leon Russell's "This Masquerade" (which won the 1976 Grammy for Record of the Year). Breezin' was a multi-million selling smash (unheard of for a jazz record), and introduced the world to a fusion of R&B and jazz that countless artists would eventually incorporate. In fact, the entire Smooth Jazz and Contemporary Jazz formats, now popular around the world, owe more to Breezin' than to any other album.

Breezin’ began a ride at the top for Benson that has continued to this day. And it still sounds great.

By Chris Rizik

 

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