Albums of Black History: George Benson, 'Breezin''

George Benson's 'Breezin''
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Warner Records

When jazz lovers bought Breezin', George Benson's 15th album and first for Warner Bros. Records, there was little to indicate the record was anything but what listeners had come to expect from the versatile guitarist: a brilliant offering of instrumental jazz as Benson had done so many times before. Then the needle slid to the second track - an eight-minute slow burn with not only spirited guitar and piano, but a versatile vocal, on the Leon Russell-penned "This Masquerade."

It was here everything changed. Benson had sung on record before, but his passionate delivery (including dazzling wordless scats to match his fleet-fingered solos) was too good for pop audiences to ignore. Radio stations began to play an edit of "This Masquerade," pushing the track to No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Breezin' to the top of the magazine's overall albums chart. When the dust settled, Breezin' had sold more than three million copies - unheard of for a jazz album - and George added a pair of Grammys to his shelf: one for Best Pop Instrumental (for the Bobby Womack-penned title track) and one for Record of the Year (for "This Masquerade").

While "This Masquerade" is the only vocal track on Breezin' - the rest is indeed chock full of instrumental power, with Benson and pianist/keyboardists Jorge Dalto and Ronnie Foster trading dazzling solos over stirring orchestral arrangements - it shifted how Benson could connect with an audience.

Read More: Summer 1980: George Benson Releases 'Give Me The Night'

"The fortunate thing about the Breezin’ album was that it was not overburdened with too many vocals," Benson said in 1978. "Some of the people who bought it, thinking they were gonna hear an album full of vocals, were disappointed at first until they realized they had what the world is now calling a classic album...So it’s really good; that album has catapulted me into another category all of my own."

Speaking with Guitar.com years later, Benson revealed another lesson from Breezin'. "Wes Montgomery heard me back then and his comment was, Boy, when he slows down, he’s gonna be a monster. I never understood that until Breezin' came out," he said. "Because when music is being played at such fast tempos, it goes by like a blip. It just goes right through them."

Read More: February 1982: George Benson Hits Top 5 with "Turn Your Love Around"

On Feb. 5, Breezin' will be newly available on vinyl, pressed on blue wax. Now seems like the perfect time to slow down yourself and discover its magic.

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Lionel Richie plays piano as he rehearses on stage at NBC Studios in Rockefeller Center for an appearance on the Saturday Night Live television show, New York, New York, December 10, 1982. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images)
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