George Benson Plays ‘Give Me The Night’

Listen to this track by crossover pop-jazz guitarist and R&B singer George Benson. It’s his 1980 top-40 radio single “Give Me The Night” as taken from the album of the same name, Give Me The Night. This is one of those tunes that’s pretty of its time in some ways, tying into that whole soft rock, light jazz, post-disco vibe of the early ’80s.  But, in other respects, it’s a pretty universal song. After all, how many songs have there been over the decades and since about the unifying power of music, and going out at night to hear it?

This was certainly Benson’s biggest hit, scoring a number one on the R&B charts, and number four on the pop charts. And if you recognize some of the production flourishes being similar to a pre-Thriller Michael Jackson, it may be because Quincy Jones (a man who knows a thing or two about adding jazzy flavour, with a hint of the funk, to pop tunes), is calling the shots on this one.  Read more

Charlie Hunter Trio Perform Nirvana Song “Come As You Are”

bing_bing_bingListen to this song by jazz and instrumental rock wunderkinds the Charlie Hunter Trio with their post-bop take on Kurt Cobain’s “Come As You Are”, a key cut from the trio’s LP Bing, Bing, Bing!, released in 1995.

I remember when I first heard this version of the Nirvana tune.  It was Toronto, Yonge St., at the HMV there in 1995 when this record came out.   I remember thinking two things.  First, that I loved the interplay between the bass and the guitar. The bass player was playing the central riff, while the guitar player punched out the melody line.  Second, that it was so great that jazz musicians were becoming less snobby about rock music, and were getting to the point where the idea of the jazz standard when performing tunes audiences know was beginning to expand.

Subsequently of course, I learned a few things about this version of the song, and about the Charlie Hunter Trio.

First, that bass player I was so impressed by doesn’t exist.  And that in fact the guitar player punching out the melody line, one Charlie Hunter, is actually playing that bassline at the same time. Charlie Hunter’s guitar has eight strings, with extra bass strings to account for his lack of a bass player in this group.  Maybe this  band set up was made to impress.  Well, it worked – even on me, who isn’t really in favour of flashy soloing and musical dexterity for its own sake.

Second,  I learned that these guys were mostly the exception to the rule when it came to acknowledging the melodic value in rock music as music to structure a  jazz arrangement around.  There are a few more, of course.  Herbie Hancock, for instance, has made inroads into expanding the vocabularly of material around which to base jazz exploration.  But, jazz is still willfully walled off from public consumption as far as establishing a new canon of jazz standards.  I really think this is a shame, since there is so much to be explored beyond the traditional American songbook.

The band’s sound isn’t limited by straight ahead jazz, but incorporates funk, instrumental rock, and even a touch of 60s-flavoured psychedelia.  To hear it, and for more information about the Charlie Hunter Trio, check out the Charlie Hunter Trio site.


Jazz guitar giant Wes Montgomery Performs John Coltrane’s “Impressions”

Here’s a clip of pick-dissing, thumb-picking jazz guitar savant Wes Montgomery with one of my favourite numbers of his, a take on John Coltrane’s “Impressions”. The most famous version of Montgomery’s can be found on the live album Willow Weep for Me featuring his work from the seminal Smokin’ At the Half Note sessions, also featuring Paul Chambers on bass, Wynton Kelly on piano, and James Cobb on drums – the same rhythm section Miles Davis employed on his landmark album Kind of Blue.

Wes Montgomery 1965
Montgomery learned guitar late in life for a jazz musician – at the seasoned age of twenty. Although he played professionally with Lionel Hampton at the end of the 1940s, he was a part-time musician by the 50s, holding down day jobs and practicing late at night. He avoided picks because it was easier to play quietly using his thumb, so as not to disturb his family during his late-night practice sessions. By the early 60s, he’d signed with legendary jazz label Verve, and his real success began, recording instrumental versions of pop songs, but also playing straight ahead hard bop with a level of skill equal to any jazz player you can think of.

In this clip, Montgomery is on tour later in the year with an entirely different group of musicians (Harold Mabern on piano, Arthur Harper on bass, and Jimmy Lovelace on drums, all pictured in the clip).  Nineteen Sixty-Five was a busy year for Montgomery, putting out several albums and touring them abroad as well as on domestic club dates.

By the time touring commenced, he had something to prove to jazz critics, who’d all thought he’d gone soft by putting out more instrumental pop-oriented material. But, the tour blew any doubts out of the water, as did his live albums recorded during that period.  Montgomery was at the height of his powers here, with his unique thumb-picking style that denied all logic, but was undeniable in terms of execution.

He had less than three years to live by the time this footage was recorded, dying too soon and very suddenly in 1968 as the result of a heart attack at the age of 43.  But, he made the most out of his last years by being one of the most influential jazz guitarists ever to have drawn breath, up there with his heroes Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian, both of whom also revolutionized jazz guitar. Montgomery continues to influence guitarists today, with his approach to tone and phrasing being a part of the unwritten textbook of jazz improvisation.

For more about Wes Montgomery, check out actor Anthony Montgomery’s site, Wes’ grandson. You may recognize him as Ensign Travis Merriweather from the television series Star Trek:Enterprise, among other roles.

And of course, get a greater sample of the man’s music by visiting this Wes Montgomery MySpace Page.