A Reconsideration of George Benson

Back in November, I took the guitarist George Benson to task for succumbing to the guile of fortune that smooth jazz can bring to a talented musician in an age when people who claim to love jazz don't know the first thing about it.

I still think Benson ought to concentrate on his axe and leave his voice at home. His fingers, as he demonstrates on so many of his recordings -- and, far too often these days, all too briefly -- do his talking for him.

When I began my gig as a member of the SkyJazz crew, I seriously listened to the programming and became convinced that my colleagues are canny people who know their music.

So I look forward to the innovations that have been appearing on the web site from time to time. Last week, we added an mp3 link, and I betook myself there to see what surprises Skyjazz had in store for me this time.

The child in the candy store had nothing on me.

But the point here is that I ran across a Benson recording of "All The Things You Are," and have spent several hours with it already. And I began to regret my harshness about Benson's selling out.

The reason is I'd forgotten something important: If the likes of George Benson, whose talent is palpable, can draw some of the Great Unwashed into the corral where, in my estimation, true jazz resides, then jazz ultimately benefits.

And these ruminations set me to thinking about the nature of jazz. If my readers will excuse a rather inelegant simile, defining jazz is like trying to define obscenity. As one of the U.S. Supreme Court Justices put it, "I can't define obscenity, but I know it when I see it."

I can make a stab at defining jazz and, no doubt, can a veteran of George Benson's talent and range.
But it's rather like defining a color. One can talk about the range of the spectrum, how light is affected by gravity, reflection, refraction and the like until, ultimately, we've defined the color right out of existence.
I don't wish to see such a thing happen to jazz. Too intellectual an approach to a basically visceral music can do nothing more than make it into a lab specimen.

I only wish that, on that jazz spectrum, Benson would keep the needle more firmly in the blue.