Legacy and Love, Memory and Music: George Benson, Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole

By Daniel Garrett

George Benson, Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole
(Featuring the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra,
Wynton Marsalis, and Idina Menzel)
Produced by John Burk
Co-produced by Randy Waldman
Concord Records, 2013

George Benson’s tribute to jazz pianist and popular singer Nat King Cole, Inspiration, has an aura of lightness and fun, of brassy entertainment and personal virtuosity, of the pleasure to be found in a distinguished, albeit accessible and beloved, tradition.  It is a compliment paid to one of the musicians who inspired the music of guitarist and singer George Benson.   Each man has demonstrated a suave command of voice and an inventive response to the instrument beneath his fingers.  Opening the album is a recording of Benson as a boy singing “Mona Lisa.”  Benson’s singing is easily attractive.  Throughout the album, George Benson’s guitar playing is soulful and supple—the notes are clear, concentrated, and sensuous.   Through his playing and the warmth of his singing—and energetic scatting—Benson, supported by the trumpet of Wynton Marsalis, makes Cole’s signature song “Unforgettable” —a composition by Irving Gordon—now Benson’s to claim.  “When I Fall in Love” is a traditionally lush romantic duet, with Idina Menzel, a performer in theater, film, and television.  The rhythm of “Route 66” is as captivating as ever; and “Nature Boy” as tartly sweet.   It is an affirmation that a certain kind of mastery—civil, intelligent, musical, sentimental—still has an appeal.  In “Too Young” Benson’s duet partner Judith Hill seems to be channeling Natalie Cole.  (Idina Menzel has her own identity in “When I Fall in Love.”)  George Benson, man, consummate professional, and artist, closes the collection with a new version of “Mona Lisa.”

Daniel Garrett, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, and the principal organizer of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at Poets House, is a writer whose work has appeared in The African, All About Jazz, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Black Film Review, Changing Men, Cinetext, Contact II, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, Illuminations, Muse Apprentice Guild, Option, Pop Matters, Quarterly Black Review of Books, Rain Taxi, Red River Review, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Wax Poetics, and World Literature Today.  Daniel Garrett has written extensively about international film for Offscreen, and comprehensive commentary on music for The Compulsive Reader.