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 Tuesday, 01 December 2015
George Benson’s “Inspiration: A Tribute To Nat King Cole” (Concord Records, 2013) PDF Print
Written by Mario Carrington   
Monday, 17 June 2013
Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole
Previously it was believed that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery.  Upon further reflection, it’s inspiration that’s the most genuine form of flattery.  This is the platform for the fabulous June 2013 Concord Records CD release from George Benson entitled Inspiration:  A Tribute to Nat King Cole.  One of the similarities shared in both of their careers is that they were well regarded and firmly established jazz musicians—Cole on piano and Benson on guitar-- before they began singing.  Cole’s breakthrough came in 1943 when he added his baritone voice to “Straighten Up and Fly Right.”  Starting with “This Masquerade” from the album Breezin’ in 1977, it was clearly the voice of Cole that Benson had in his mind’s ear, and which has served him well throughout his illustrious career. 
Inspiration has 12 of the more popular songs associated with Cole, and would certainly be the 12 that come immediately to mind when you think of him.  The CD delivers triple the sensory pleasure, as while you’re listening to Benson’s singing with the great Nelson Riddle arrangements of these classic compositions, you’re also fondly recalling Cole’s versions, and in your mind’s eye, seeing the clips of him singing them on his short-lived 1956-57 television program.  The Riddle arrangements are played throughout by the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra.  Guest stars on several tracks include Tony Award winner Idina Menzel (for “Wicked”), Judith Hill from “The Voice,” and multiple Grammy Award-winning and Pulitzer prize winner Wynton Marsalis.

Inspiration begins with a rare recording of an 8-year-old Benson singing “Mona Lisa,” which occurred as a result of his winning a contest in 1951, and the prize was the opportunity to record a song at a recording studio.  This undoubtedly was a local Pittsburgh version of the “Ted Mack Amateur Hour, Sponsored By Geritol” (for you Milennials out there, please consult YouTube).  Track #2 is a blistering version of Cole Porter’s  “Just One of Those Things.”  “Unforgettable” begins with a trumpet solo by Marsalis, with Benson then setting sail with a new arrangement to the Irving Gordon tune.  The Fred Ahlert/Roy Turk composition “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home” will elicit finger popping and side-to-side head swinging in the privacy of your home, office or car.  “When I Fall In Love” and “Too Young” are beautiful duets with Menzel and Hill respectively that will make you hit the repeat button.  The piano, guitar and bass interaction in the middle of “Route 66” will bring to mind the sound of Cole’s swinging 1940’s trio of Johnny Miller (bass) and Oscar Moore (guitar).  “Nature Boy” gets a different treatment by Benson compared to his memorable 1977 interpretation, but it is just as indelible in this spare version. 

The final track is “Mona Lisa,” the fabled composition by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, and the heartfelt tribute by Benson is palpable.  Speaking about recording the album, Benson said, “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.”  All of the songs on Inspiration can be considered highlights and also include “Ballerina,” “Smile,” “Straighten Up and Fly Right” and “I’m Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.”  Benson’s delicate phrasing and precise pronunciation throughout the album properly pay tribute to a music icon whose time came too soon but who has never been forgotten.

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