Heavy Rotation: George Benson, 'Naima'
With Supreme blogger Patrick Jarenwattananon on vacation, we asked jazz music directors from around public radio to highlight songs that have been in heavy rotation at their stations. Today's pick comes from Gary G. Vercelli of Northern California's Capital Public Radio.
Back in the '70's, when I served as L.A. correspondent for Down Beat, I went back stage to interview George Benson between sets. Breezin' (1976) had just hit the charts and Benson was beginning a tour to promote an album that would propel him to wider recognition.
True to form, I found Benson practicing between sets, strumming out John Coltrane's "Naima" on his guitar without an amplifier. I wondered to myself, "I wish George would put out a straight ahead album like this, really showcasing what he can do outside the commercial arena."
Thirty-five years later, I was pleasantly surprised to find "Naima" and the jazz standard "Tenderly" included on George's Guitar Man CD. As I listened to "Naima," I realized my wish had been granted. Benson's clean lines and use of space breathe new life into Coltrane's standard. His virtuosity never compromises the melodic lyricism of this beautiful ballad. On the rest of the CD, Benson is still courting the smooth jazz demo, but on "Naima" mainstream jazz lovers have a winner.