I first saw George Benson in concert in Sydney, Australia in 1982, and his impact on my love of jazz guitar was immediate. I was a Benson fan for life!
When I moved to live in the USA I was packing my CDs for the move, and noted that a huge number of them were produced by a single record producer, his name was Tommy Lipuma.
One of Tommy’s greatest success stories was George Benson; along with artists like Diana Krall, Dr. John, David Sanborn, Michael Franks and Al Jarreau.
|George Benson & Al Jarreau|
I determined to locate Tommy Lipuma and get to know him, and finally tracked him down to a recording studio on New York's Upper East Side owned by Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen.
The day we met, Tommy was producing final touches on an album for Diana Krall. Not only did I score a meeting with the sensuous Ms. Krall, but Tommy and I began what I call a 30 years friendship in 30 seconds. We share similarly catholic tastes in music and art.
For many years, I revered my own print of a piece of contemporary art called ‘From The Bridge’ painted by New York artist John Marin in 1933.
|John Marin's 'From The Bridge'|
First time I was in Tommy’s New York apartment, here’s a beautiful lithograph of ‘From The Bridge’ on his living room wall.
In 2003 the Director of the Tri-C JazzFest in Cleveland, Ohio, the vivacious Terri Pontremoli called me with news of a tribute concert honouring Tommy Lipuma, and as a good friend, did I want to attend? Is the Pope a Catholic?
The concert was several months prior to the US launch of the Bentley Continental GT coupe, but I managed to wangle the use of an engineering prototype for the weekend of the concert. I paid the bellhops to park the Continental GT in the porte cochere of the Ritz-Carlton, ensuring it would attract everyone’s attention.
Saturday morning, and a knock on the door of my hotel room, and outside is George Benson. “Hey John, Tommy told me that’s your Bentley downstairs. What a beautiful car! Any chance we could go for a drive in it?”
Thus began my most memorable shopping trip ever! George wanted to buy new guitar strings for his original Ibenez guitar, given to him by his father. There were only four music stores in the Cleveland area, so I had the pleasure of driving George Benson from store to store over the next four hours, whilst he shopped for guitar strings!
Due to insurance reasons he was unable to drive the car, but we corresponded for a few weeks, until he decided to order one for delivery in 2004. Also, due to the fact I was completely unprepared for this event, I did not take a camera to record our time together.
Some weeks later, I visited Tommy Lipuma and his wife Gill on the site of his new country house in upstate New York and bemoaned the fact I had no photos of the event. Tommy said not to worry, George Benson had a memory like an elephant and would never forget the treat of tooling round Cleveland in the still-secret Bentley Continental GT coupe.
Fast forward to February 2016, and my wife and I are joining the ms Eurodam in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for a 7 day Jazz Cruise in the Caribbean, starring George Benson.
The concerts were great, the music vibrant, and the camaraderie of the performers led to many impromptu multi-act performances.
|George Benson & Marcus Miller|
I told the organizers of the cruise about my meeting with George Benson in 2003; and next morning we received a very special invitation at our stateroom.
Following his final concert, we joined a small group of George Benson’s friends and fans for cocktails in the Green Room.
I began reminding him of our meeting in 2003, and he stopped me, saying: “Man, that was the most beautiful car. I loved it. That was a great day. What a shopping trip, I remember it very well!”
Then, a photo together as a memento of some great jazz performances, and recording this meeting with one of my all time heroes of the jazz genre.