It’s George Benson, so it is usually pretty solid! This solo is certainly no exception, and it is from probably my favorite period of Benson with a lot of Bebop, high energy, amazing phrasing, and some really solid Blues!
Jazz guitar probably wouldn’t be Jazz guitar without this era of Bensons playing, but I think that will be clear from this. It seems hard to believe that I nearly walked out of a concert the first time I heard him play, I’ll tell you about that later.
The song is a fairly basic Blues in C with one twist in the harmony, and Benson’s solo is mind-blowing, it even has a phrase that I can’t analyze or really make sense of but it still sounds great!
The theme is sort of built around a sound that I used to call “Expensive” or “Sophisticated” Blues.
The Best Period For George Benson?
Before we get into the solo and the mysterious phrases that I can’t analyze let me just recommend this album! The track is off the George Benson Cookbook
which is one of my favorites. This album and the one before it called “It’s Uptown” are the same core band and are great examples of what George Benson did as a sideman before really launching into a solo career. Both are great albums that you want to check out!
There is a lot to talk about already with the theme, even if it isn’t complicated then it is doing the simple things right to make it work, both with the rhythm, the melody and the harmony. This is on quite a few levels actually.
Let’s start with the main riff:
What I used to call Expensive Blues was when I had solos that used the 6th or 13th together with the minor 3rd, this is from before I started playing Jazz. A trill with the blue note and a descending run that ends on the 6th.
What makes this really work is that it is repeated, but it is repeated so that it is not the same rhythm since the first one starts on beat one and then the 2nd time it is on beat 4.
In fact, the 2-bar riff splits the two bars into 3-3-2 beat groups, so it has a sort of 3-2 clave feel as well, not unlike New Orleans grooves or what you may know from Bo Diddley.
The tag in this riff is C major pentatonic, something that you will see Benson use quite a lot in his solo as well.
The progression is a 12-bar blues, except for bars 9 and 10 where they play Ab7 to G7. It is also worth mentioning that they use these chords in the theme, but it is not in the solo where Benson plays either Dm7 G7 or D7 G7.
You will actually come across this in more songs where the theme has complicated harmony and then it is made simpler and more open when you solo.
I think this song illustrates in so many ways: Keeping it simple but strong really works, the pickup for the solo also shows this:
Setting it Up With Some Bebop (pickup)
Benson has a 1 bar break and is coming out of all the syncopated notes so the energy is already really high, and he matches that with the first phrase.
But it is really simple, an Altered dominant and a simple enclosure taking us to the 3rd of C on beat one, and it also really works! Jazz doesn’t have to be complicated all the time!
And he continues with a very basic triadic C melody which is sort of a major blues cliché
I am saying this is simple, but as you will see then it is not just him running scales, he is really playing phrases or melodies, all the time. The next phrase is very complicated, but I am not 100% that it is on purpose.
What Is This Now?
That’s a LOT of half-steps and a really weird interval in the middle.
It starts as a blues phrase and it ends as a blues phrase and then the middle part is really unclear. I could overanalyze it as super-imposing a dominant or using Barry Harris’ 6th dim with a million leading notes, but that doesn’t really make sense to me.
It is not the first time I have had phrases in a solo that I couldn’t really explain but sounds fine when I listen to the solo. I suspect this might just be a few wrong notes. One thing that is on point is the timing of the phrase and later there are some really solid rhythmical examples, a phrasing thing that is done with picking (I think), and of course some Bebop.
I forgot to mention that this piece is probably dedicated to the Trombone player Bennie Green who is also a featured guest soloist on the track.
Super Simple but Super Solid!
Here’s some super solid Bebop, but it is again very simple, and notice how relative short the phrases are for Bop stuff.
I think it is interesting because I know he was inspired by Pat Martino, and to me, this does sort of have a Pat Martino vibe or Pat Martino energy, but at the same time the material is much simpler and the lines are shorter with more emphasis on rhythm. One thing that you can really hear in this solo, which I have to tell students very often is that there are not a lot of phrases ending with long notes, in fact, it is mostly ending staccato, so very short.
A lot of basic stuff, notice the line on the Eø A7 because he uses a variation of this later.
He is using an Fmaj9 arpeggio over Dm7 and changing up the sound with slides in the turnaround.
So a different way of playing the notes and short phrases and more rhythm!
The next phrase has a lot of notes and only a few different notes at the same time, but it is really about rhythm and phrasing.
A Picking Trick
This is just repeating a note and making it sound different by using different strings. He is really playing around with the 3-note groupings on top of the song,
and he is sort of just spelling out F7, F#dim to C7 which is a common set of changes for a blues in C.
Let’s check out a variation of the Eø A7 that I mentioned earlier:
Octave Displacement And An Extra Dom7th
On the Eø A7 you have essentially the same phrase as before:
but now it is with octave displacement so that he skips up to the Bb.
In fact, he does a lot of great interval skips in this solo which really makes it more melodic.
You can also see that he comes out on a D7 this time, really playing D major pentatonic
before moving into some C blues over the G7 (play), which is also a way to create tension on that dominant.
Again not filling it up with 8th notes, and making the rhythm interesting without it being overly complicated.
`And that is a choice, as you can see from this phrase which is some solid syncopation.
But first, as I mentioned that I nearly walked out of a George Benson concert. I was always completely blown away by Benson on stuff like this, or his solo on Billie’s Bounce I also made a video on it, and his straight-ahead playing is so incredible. But obviously, he is, by now, much more popular as a singer and sits more in pop and smooth jazz, which is not really my thing. The first time I heard him live, he was playing at the North Sea Jazz Festival. I was in my 2nd year of conservatory, and we had just played at the festival with the conservatory big band conducted by Jim McNeely. I had been listening to a LOT to this album that year, so I was really looking forward to seeing him play. He was in the big hall at the festival, and we went there. Of course, it was completely packed so we had to stand far back in the hall. I have to admit that in the concert, I was completely baffled and pretty disappointed that he didn’t play guitar at all in the concert, he was only singing. After 30 minutes, I gave up and I was already beginning to make my way to the exit to see something else when he finally picked up the guitar and played an amazing instrumental Blues, and The next and last song luckily also had a guitar solo as well. It was so good that it was actually worth waiting for.
Syncopated Blues Cliche
This is really just a syncopated version of the A-train ending (play) but like this, it has a lot more energy, and at this tempo, it is also tricky to nail it, but I am, again, really impressed with how simple it really is.
What makes all of this work is the execution, the phrasing, and energy that George Benson just nails in the solo.
A Better Tempo For Jazz Blues
That is the real challenge, because if you don’t have that then no amount of scales or complicated arpeggios will save you. But maybe this tempo is a bit fast to get started with this, and there is another Jazz blues solo that is in a much slower tempo but which also is full of perfect phrases, most of which are pretty simple, and that this Joe Pass solo that is off my favorite Joe Pass album.
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