That Weekend in L.A. with George Benson

benson

 

In late September of 1977 jazz guitarist and newly minted crossover R&B crooner, George Benson landed in Los Angeles to record his landmark live album at the legendary Roxy Theatre.  At the time, Los Angeles was in the midst of creating incredible historic and enduring moments.  The months leading up to Benson’s performance on the night of September 30th at the Roxy Theatre, Angelinos had not only witnessed the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter with the rest of America, but locally experienced remarkable events that ranged from the unforgettable imagery of NASA’s Space shuttle Enterprise soaring across the sky piggy-backed on a Boeing 747 jet, experiencing the frenzy of the redefining sci-fi soon to be juggernaut film Star Wars, to welcoming Mayor Tom Bradley—arguably the most politically and socially significant person west of the Rockies in the ‘70s—into his second term, collectively breathed a sigh of relief with the capture of the sick “Freeway Killer” all while watching new Dodgers’ manager Tommy Lasorda lead his team into the NLCS*.  Los Angeles was indeed primed and ready to receive a George Benson performance.

A year prior, Benson’s popularity reached the zenith of his career with the release of his hit single “This Masquerade” from his two time Grammy award winning album Breezin’. His sure-fire vocals and scats, which mirrored his guitar melodies and jazz riffs, catapulted him into the upper echelon of R&B crooners of the era.  Benson, for the first time, effectively crossed over from the jazz genre solidly into the world of R&B and pop. Attracting new and larger audiences for his live performances, Benson was indeed primed to deliver for a slick and beautifully complex L.A. audience.

On the afternoon of September 30th, Benson made his way up Sunset Boulevard amid fancy cars, infamous traffic, Hollywood sunshine, larger-than-life billboards, palm tree-lined streets, and of course a bit of that iconic L.A. smog on his way to the Roxy Theatre. The theatre on Sunset, commonly known as The Roxy, was founded by producers and Hollywood insiders Lou Adler, Elmer Valentine, David Geffen, Elliot Roberts, and Peter Asher who together opened its doors for business just four years earlier.  In a short time, The Roxy had emerged as the venue of choice for up and coming artists to showcase their talents to a consuming audience bent on catching a glimpse of the new hot thing. Upon Benson’s arrival, he was met by his well rehearsed and longtime band, which consisted of Stanley Banks on Bass, Ronnie Foster on synthesizer, the late Ralph MacDonald on percussion, Phil Upchurch on rhythm guitar, Harvey Mason on drums, and the late Jorge Dalto on piano.  He quickly rehearsed the setlist and worked out any kinks to create a flawless show.  After rehearsal, Benson met with the late producer Tommy LiPuma to work out stage sounds and board mixes.  In conversation with Benson, LiPuma agonized over what to name the album and pondered a few ideas. Ultimately, not wanting to apply a common and yet all too mundane moniker like George Benson Live at the Roxy, which is a style that has been used to name other albums recorded live at The Roxy, rather LiPuma settled on George Benson Weekend in L.A.  The title implied a happening–an event that was not to be missed.  Benson loved it.

That very night in late September, Benson stepped on stage to a sold out and packed Roxy.  The audience was filled with Angelino fans eager to be lifted to the next level by the magic of Benson’s performance.  Music industry heavy hitters such as Aretha Franklin, the late Minnie Ripperton, the late Natalie Cole, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Scott, the late Leon Russell, and even actors David Soul and Keith Carradine were nestled into the crowd to certify Benson’s rising star as an R&B and pop artist.  Benson’s music swept over the audience and filled the gritty theatre with a lively atmosphere of celebration, which aided in the release of tension for residents of L.A.  His skillful jazz licks and well-seasoned vocals easily carried the audience to a place of both respite and pleasure.  Benson and his band opened with songs such as the aptly named “Weekend in LA,” written especially for this live event.  Then in grand style, summoned for the first time, he performed  “On Broadway,” which, after this night, would become his signature song. Next, Benson dug in on the heartfelt “Down Here on The Ground,” which was followed by  the driving “California P.M.”  And finally, to round out half of the album’s set, he sang out in fantastic fashion “The Greatest Love of All,” which he recorded a few months earlier for the Muhammad Ali film, The Greatest.  The late Whitney Houston’s recording of “The Greatest Love of All” became the first of her many signature songs.  The Roxy audience cheered, shouted, and erupted in applause throughout the lively performance while Benson continued to perform the rest of the evening.  His songs’ fed L.A’s appetite for epic and uniquely cultured music.

In the end, Benson performed at The Roxy for three nights.  The L.A. audience embraced his music amid the electric climate of the late seventies.  Certainly, Benson was ready for his proverbial “Hollywood close-up,” which was made possible by his newfound crossover appeal. The Roxy was the perfect venue to bring together the complex and slick L.A. audience.  The live recording of George Benson Weekend in L.A. captured a magical evening that not only demonstrated how a guitar and jazz riffs could bring a crowd to a frenzy but more so, spoke to the issues of the era.   The entire live album, upon a contemporary listen, is infused with the promise of hope and change.  Without question, the 80s kept that promise.  That weekend in L.A. with George Benson was indeed a happening, which we can revisit and experience anytime. The album is a classic. 

George Benson Weekend in L.A. was released three months later in January of 1978. Benson’s weekend effort garnered him the Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for the song “On Broadway.”  Benson’s album, which turned 40 years old earlier this month is impeccably recorded and is a must listen.

 

*Not to get all sporty here but the Dodgers won the NLCS in a 3-1 victory over the Phillies and went to the World Series to battle the Yankees.  Reggie Jackson with a little help from the rest of the Yankees sent the Dodgers packing 4-2. It’s a good thing they had George Benson Weekend in L.A. to soothe the hurt.

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AAMAM: Miles Davis’ “So What” Is Perfect! Part 18 of 30

milesOn March 2, 1959, Miles Davis recorded “So What” at Columbia 30th Street Studio in New York, with legendary musicians Paul Chambers (bassist), Bill Evans (Pianist), John Coltrane (tenor saxophonist), Julian “Cannonball” Adderley (alto saxophonist), and Jimmy Cobb (Drummer). “So What” is the best song ever recorded on the best album ever recorded in the history of recording, Kind Of Blue. Kind Of Blue is consistently among the top 10 non debut jazz albums purchased every year since 1960. You have this album, right?!

“So What” is the supreme model for modal chord structure. “So What” is uncanny in that every solo is perfect—every note is in the right place. “So What” changed the sound of jazz for the entire decade of the 60s.

Sit back, turn it up, and listen. Happy AAMAM!

AAMAM: Ornette Coleman, RIP! Part 11 of 30

Today the world has lost an extraordinary musician, philosopher, guard, teacher, and man! Today, avant garde saxophonist Ornette Coleman died—may he Rest In Peace and love.

colemanAlways the innovator in musical thought and sonic structure, he pushed the bounds of what defined the jazz genre. In scientific terms, to be so bold, he manifested punctuated equilibrium and performed cladogenesis within the jazz genre. His distinct musical approach was an immediate change from the standard and created new ways for jazz to be or exist.

Coleman led the way for new jazz to come.

His album The Shape Of Jazz To Come set a new bench mark in music. It was well ahead of its time in many respects and was received with confusion and caused sonic discomfort to those unwilling to release their strongly held jazz sensibilities.  Today Coleman’s iconic album is embraced as the go-to standard of study for musicians looking to expand their musical vocabulary.

Have a great avant garde AAMAM (day)

Get a glimpse into Coleman’s forward thinking mind by listening to what set the world on its ass in 1959!

AAMAM: Sorrow, Memory, and Poetry Part 4 of 30

billieRecorded on April 20, 1939 Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” spoke of the haunting imagery all to familiar to African Americans especially in the South. Holiday’s voice and cadence embodied the sorrows, horrors, loss, and spiritual pain that was lynching.  The lyrics of “Strange Fruit,” which became Holiday’s signature song, was written as a poem by Jewish writer and teacher Abel Meeropol in 1937.  He responded in poetry to a photo image of a lynching.  Meeropol hoped his poem would add voice the atrocities of lynchings and help further the campaign of antilynching laws, which were vigorously shot down in the Senate during era of the song’s popularity.

This is AAMAM. Listen to remember and be well.

Your Sunday iPod Add: Soweto Kinch: Jazz, Hip Hop and A Morality Tale

Soweto Kinch

Welcome back (again) to your Sunday iPod add, which will hence forth be called, “Your Sunday Playlist*.”

For those who indulge in and appreciate both hip-hop and post bebop jazz and at times wondered what sounds would emerge if these two genres collided head on; meshed their energies; twisted and tangled their rhythm and rhyme; or collaborate a freestyle from a common theme. Well wonder no more!  Let me introduce you to Soweto Kinch!  Kinch, according to his social media page is an “Award winning alto-saxophonist and MC” and “is one of the most exciting and versatile young musicians in both the British jazz and hip hop scenes.” Yes, Kinch has his feet firmly planted in both genres where he is capable and thriving.

(Photo copyright John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk)

(Photo copyright John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk)

A few months ago I, Mr. Johnny-come-lately, embarrassingly later than even George Colligan at jazztruth.blogspot.com, stumbled onto Soweto Kinch’s music (as I tend to do happily with plenty of artists) and was blown away by his fluid versatility and dexterity in both the hip-hop and post bebop jazz genres.  Upon hearing his music, I was reminded of other artists who have dabbled in combining hip-hop with jazz, most notably A Tribe Called Quest’s album “Low End Theory,” which featured the iconic bassist Ron Carter amid stripped down jazz samples and certainly Guru’s “Jazzmatazzjazzmatazz Vol. 1,” in particular, genre bending album, which employed heavy post bebop hitters such as saxophonist Brandford Marsalis, pianist Lonnie Liston Smith, vibist Roy Ayers, the late trumpeter Donald Byrd, and the late guitarist Ronny Jordan. While these albums elegantly blended the rhythmic lyrics of hip hop with syncopated drum grooves and bebop chord progressions, Kinch’s music, rather, abuts freestyle post bebop tracks next to freestyle hip hop jams, which allows the listener to hear the similarities in the music’s spontaneity and freedom. Kinch’s movement back and forth between the genres recalls the origins of both jazz and hip hop’s gritty sounds and street attitude. The magic and intention of jazz and hip hop is not lost on Soweto Kinch.

The first track of Kinch I stumbled onto was “Never Ending” from the album The New Emancipation. After this, I began a fever pitch search for more of Kinch’s music. I found all of his brilliant music and surprisingly some videos of his legendary rap battles on the streets of London (check it). Ultimately, I found his most recent album (recent to me) The Legend Of Mike Smith.new eman This is a tightly put together concept album. Kinch described it as “an exploration of the seven deadly sins in the modern context. It also follows the travails of one young character, Mike Smith as he’s attempting to get signed by a major record label and curtail his normal style to see what he thinks they will find successful or appealing.The album contains post bebop burners, spoken word, and heated rap, which all serve to drive a narrative a modern day morality tale. The Legend Of Mike Smith is compelling to listen to as any concept album out there.

So if the idea of Common meets Charlie Parker meets a 90s Greg Osby meets a Mos Def is intriguing, then take a listen and wonder no more!mike smith

Add some Soweto Kinch to your playlist. You will thank me later.

Your Sunday iPod add: Cécile McLorin Salvant and Zara McFarlane are the new wave of Jazz

Welcome to your new iPod add.

salvant

Cécile McLorin Salvant

This is a two for one iPod add. Oh snap! There are several jazz vocalists who are part of the exciting new wave of artists in the jazz genre.  Vocalist such as Gregory Porter and José James, just to name a few, are definitely members of the new wave.  To be sure, Miami born pianist, singer, songwriter Cécile McLorin Salvant and London born singer, songwriter musician Zara McFarlane are emerging movers and shakers in the genre.

Zara McFarlane

Zara McFarlane

Salvant and McFarlane share Caribbean roots and have attained European music training over the past few years, which in a sense makes them truly international. Together they contribute to the wonderful world of jazz in terms of their skill, sincere performances, and honest lyrics that speak of their life’s journey thus far.

I’m ecstatic to have added Salvant’s Womanchild, (2013) and McFarlane’s If You Knew Her, (2014) to my collection.  This week double up your jazz and add these fine ladies to your iPod! You will thank me later!

Listen and enjoy: