George Benson's Solo on:
"Bossa Rocka"(George Benson)

      Recently, a student of mine asked me if I had ever done any George Benson transcriptions. Initially, I had to answer, "No." But, after thinking a moment, I realized that I had actually transcribed one of his solos, and the melody statement which precedes it, many years ago prior to my move to New York City in 1970. So, I went into my old, very old, notebooks and finally located a rather primitive looking transcription of "Bossa Rocka" which appears on George's 2nd recording as a leader for Columbia Records from 1966 when he was only in his early twenties. That LP, now a CD, was titled "THE GEORGE BENSON COOKBOOK" and featured a group with organist Lonnie Smith and baritone sax great, Ronnie Cuber. During some of my recent travels I decided that I would look over the original work I did because it did NOT look accurate AT ALL.COOKBOOK - George Benson When I finally had some time to compare what I had written out over 30 yrs. ago with what I now heard, well, if I had been giving myself a letter grade for this work, it would have been an 'F' without question! There must have been an error in virtually every single bar. Wow, horrible!!! Anyway, enough of this, let's get right to discussing just how wonderful a player George Benson is.
      "Bossa Rocka" is really the first transcription offered at KHAN'S KORNER where the melody statement itself is presented for study. I chose to do this because the way George plays here is a perfect blend of letting the single notes speak while portions of chord melody are added for warmth and color. If you listen as you watch the written music go by you should hear that George is phrasing in a beautifully laid-back style. Each phrase being played romantically on both sides of the beat. It's wonderful to hear his feel and touch, which I believe was just done, at least in parts, with his thumb. There's a very 'fleshy' sound to many of the phrases. When someone is playing in such a laid-back manner it can make writing it out a little difficult but I believe that we must write out the 'intent' of the phrases and indicate that it was played with feeling and interpretation. Another reason for presenting this tune is that it gives the feeling of being a 'standard.' It has a classic form sense about it, but, it's not really an [A][A'] form, though it's certainly close to it. You'll notice that the 1st 8-bars of [A] and [A2] are identical but there the similarities end. [A] contains 12-bars and [A2] has 18-bars which is really an odd number of bars, but, it all feels very organic. When George does offer a chord voicing, they are pretty fundamental but each is perfect for the spot in which it appears with there being more chordal activity in [A2] as the composition builds. So, just to repeat, pay attention to these elements: [1] George's beautiful melodic phrasing, so very relaxed and laid-back and, [2] How and where he flavors the single notes with chord melody. Again, all of this is beautifully done and shows a maturity far greater than his years might indicate. At this young age, George Benson was ALREADY an artist and a master of his instrument. It's terrifying to think that he only got better, and better with each recording.
      One of the reasons I chose to offer this solo for study, aside from the fact that I just happened to have it lying around, was that George plays so melodically and relaxed. IF you are familiar with the two Columbia recordings(the first being, "IT'S UPTOWN" with the GEORGE BENSON QUARTET)then you'd know how incredibly facile a player he was then....tremendous chops, energy, and a very adventurous and fearless spirit. So, that said, to hear him play in such a 'casual' fashion is wonderful, and gives the student, of any age, a chance to hear and see just which notes are essential to a jazz improvisation over some very 'standard' chord changes.George Benson On virtually every V7(alt.) chord which precedes a resolution to a Imaj7 or im7, George employs the b9 pitch. Examine bars 6, 8, and 10 of [A]; and bars 6, 8, and 16 of [A2].
      Rhythmically, you should listen for his usage of various triplet ideas especially as the tune is played over a bossa nova feel, which is an even-8th note feel, as opposed to swing. The usage of triplet groupings only accentuates the laid-back nature of his approach to this tune. You might want work on adding to your own playing the triplet grouping where George leaves OFF the 1st 8th-note and then plays the next two. You hear examples of this in bars 1, 4, 6, and 10 of [A]; and bars 13, 15, and 16 of [A2].
      George Benson's solo on "Bossa Rocka" has all the elements to make a classic solo: tone, touch, feel, great phrasing, and beautiful note choices. One just could not ask for much more. Perhaps the point I've been trying to make is this: In an ideal world, if one can make the interpretation of a melody sound improvised and then play an improvised solo which is so melodic that it seems composed then I believe that you will have something truly wonderful happening. It is an ideal for which to strive! And this is exactly what George Benson has done on "Bossa Rocka." Again, one must bow to the amazing polish George had already attained at around 23 yrs. old. How very rare this is! Like one of his heroes, Wes Montgomery, years of service in an organ trio(George's apprenticeship was with Brother Jack McDuff) had to have been the best training ground of all. I can think of no better way to begin the 21st Century than to salute one of our greatest talents, George Benson. Happy New Year everyone!!!

[Photo of George Benson by Francis Wolff, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, April 7th, 1967.]

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