About 2 years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing one of my favorite guitarist, the timeless NEA Jazzmaster George Benson. We talked about his then current project Guitar Man, longevity in the music business as well as his musical influences. Now if you know anything about Mr. Benson, you should now that one of his major influences was the great vocalist Nat King Cole. Well, over the past four years, Mr. Benson has been touring the land performing his own music while developing a tribute to Nat King Cole. That tribute is now complete and captured for all to enjoy on the CD: “Inspiration: An Unforgettable Tribute to Nat King Cole”.
Now when you tackle the works of Nat King Cole, it’s a go big or don’t go at all situation. Mr. Benson, goes big! He pulls out all the stops as he assembles an all star cast of musicians in Pulitzer Prize-Winning Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, Tony Award Winner Idina Menzel, vocal sensation Judith Hill and the icing on the cake being tunes arranged by Nelson Riddle featuring the 42-piece Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra. The bonus for me starts out the CD with a recording of Mr. Benson going back to his childhood where he started singing Nat King Cole at the tender age of eight. He recorded a version of Nat King Cole's song "Mona Lisa" under the moniker Little Georgie Benson.
It’s amazing the similarities that these two giants of jazz have shared. Nat King Cole rose to prominence with his 1943 classic “Straighten Up & Fly Right”, which was released the same year that Mr. Benson was born. Both artists started out as instrumentalist before putting their voices to work and they shared crossover success throughout their musical careers.
In his own words, when talking about this project, Mr. Benson stated, "I felt every moment of it. You can't put together a record like this without putting your heart into it. I got that from Nat King Cole. He put his heart into everything he did.". Tune in all month long as we give you an opportunity to listen and win the latest CD of 10 time Grammy Award Winner George Benson, “Inspiration: An Unforgettable Tribute to Nat King Cole”, as it’s our CD of the Month on WEAA-FM
The “Queen of the Organ” also known as Shirley Scott was born on March 14, 1934 and was called back home in the same month of March in 2002. Born in the City of Brotherly Love, Scott was greatly inspired by fellow organist, Jimmy Smith. The young musician began her music career in high school with the piano and trumpet before reaching her greatest achievements on the organ. Around the mid 1950’s, Scott was playing the piano in Philadelphia’s popping club scene. It wasn’t until a city club owner needed her to fill in for an organist that her affinity for the bulky instrument began.
The young artist took a direct liking to the organ almost automatically producing a sound unlike anyone else’s. Her style of playing was very aggressive. It was described as arguably the most graceful sound to ever come out of an organ. Scott’s unique sound came about through integrating her gospel background with bebop harmonies and blues melodies.
Towards the end of the 1950’s, linking up with saxophonist Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis proved to be a very promising music venture for the queen. The music that Scott and Davis made together gave them both plenty of acknowledgements throughout the jazz community. The duo’s 1958 hit, “In the Kitchen” was said to be one of the main reasons her popularity began to soar. From 1961 to 1971, Shirley Scott was married to legendary tenor saxophonist, Stanley Turrentine. Together, the two made some of their finest music for various record labels.
In the 80’s, Ms. Shirley Scott began teaching jazz history at Cheyney University and directing her church’s music department. She was also the music director for Bill Cosby’s short lived television show, “Bet Your Life” of 1992. Throughout her life, Scott has always been honored for her many contributions to the jazz community. Last year, those accomplishments were recognized when a scholarship for the musically inclined students at Cheyney University was named in her honor. The “Queen of the Organ” is gone but will never be forgotten due to her amazing, countless contributions to the jazz community. WEAA honors Shirley Scott as our Jazzmaster of the Month for March. Tune in all month long to hear various selections from her.