“George Benson: The Art of Jazz Guitar” is the latest
installment I’ve seen in Arlen Roth’s “Hot Licks” series.
This 68-minute DVD was probably shot in the mid-to-late 1990’s,
and released in 2006. It differs from the other “Hot Licks” DVDs
that I’ve watched in that it was filmed in Benson’s home in
New Jersey. This provided an ideal setting, allowing Benson
to be completely at ease while discussing the guitar techniques
for which he has justly become famous. He also provided copious
demonstrations of amazing chordal technique and other
virtuoso elements, such as “rattling” the notes using three fingers.
Later, he showed how to obtain the same results with a pick.
He was the first to use a pick for this technique, and said that
pianist Fats Waller had been his inspiration. Fortunately, he was
able to observe Waller play, and later watched and conversed
with another Jazz great, Wes Montgomery.
In fact, Benson makes no bones about stating that he’s
borrowed all sorts of ideas from many musicians. He said that
if you’re concerned about playing something no one has ever
heard before, it’s time to hang up the guitar! Benson believes
that it is most important to play from your heart, and that your
unique qualities will shine through. Of course, in his case, it didn’t
hurt that he began as a talented prodigy, and made his first
record at age 10. By the time this film was shot, Benson had
become a Jazz master, having already won eight Grammy awards.
While I watched him play some of his “licks” on this DVD, I was
struck by his thorough knowledge of sophisticated Jazz chords,
as well as his ability to play them at lightning speed. The use of
a split-screen film technique was a real plus here, because it
was essential to see both his left and right hands. I also loved
listening to his various anecdotes, such as hearing that one of his
favorite guitarists, B. B. King, cite Eric Clapton and George Benson
as HIS favorite guitarists!
Clearly, Benson has drawn from a huge array of Jazz and Blues
greats, and developed a playing style that is recognizable as his
own. He also discussed his first forays into singing publicly, and
he “scats” a bit here, while playing. As a teacher, he comes across
as very humble and “down home,” and someone who would
set any fortunate student at ease. He may be encouraging
to prospective guitarists, but I personally found his
demonstrations to be a bit intimidating, and I’m not a guitarist!
The usual “Hot Licks” bonus features were included here, such
as a printed artist biography, discography, listening
recommendations, and about 24 transcribed playing examples
with slow-motion options. This DVD of a truly awesome guitarist
should not be missed.