Thursday, April 10, 2014

George Benson Played my Ibanez Joe Pass Guitar

George Benson Played my Ibanez Joe Pass JP20 Guitar

I wish this story was called “Meeting George Benson” like my Joe Pass story, but it really wasn’t the same at all, although I did get to say hello and shake his hand. George was in town for a Jazzoo Concert at our Cincinnati Zoo. This would have been sometime in 1992. I had been playing at the Blue Wisp Jazz Club in downtown Cincinnati for a couple of nights a week ever since my return to Cincinnati from the service.

At that time I was playing Thursdays with the great tenor sax player Jimmy McGary, and drummer Art Gore (who toured with George for a while), and string bassist Bob Bodley. Jimmy was a Cincinnati treasure, like Cal Collins, or Kenny Poole or more.

Also from Cincinnati is Wilbert Longmire of some fame and he was a friend of George’s. Benson has a long history of showing up at the local jazz clubs while touring, so it was no surprise when I started hearing a lot of voices at a table near the front. I don’t usually look around much when I play, but I started to fear it was George. Indeed it was, and he had a small entourage with him along with Wilbert.

We took a break, and when we started to make a move towards going back on, Georges’ group kept telling him to play. He finally agreed and played my Ibanez. Now remember in those days we didn’t have cell phones with cameras or recording devices at our fingertips, so this went mostly undocumented. George played a gorgeous solo version of ‘Round Midnight on my Ibanez like he had been playing it his whole life. It was a truly amazing rendition and I only wish we could have recorded it.

Then he handed me the guitar and his crowd begged him to sing, so he sang Green Dolphin Street as we played. I am thrilled and thankful to say that by that time, one of my other musician friends, Jim Connerly,  had rummaged around the bar long enough to find a camera, and he snapped a pic of us playing while George sang.

So in the picture is me of course on guitar (scared to death I might add), Bob Bodley on string bass, Art Gore on drums, Mike Campbell on tenor (sadly by this time Jimmy’s health was failing and he was out sick that night), and of course George Benson in front looking on and admiring my playing (LOL).

After that George rejoined his group and I think at the next break I did go over to the table and meet him but it was just a real quick handshake and that was it. Really wish he would have played a few tunes with the whole group because they were a very swinging rhythm section. But it was still an amazing night and a tremendous thrill.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Meeting Joe Pass

Meeting Joe Pass

Many years ago, (Oct 1985) when I was still in the service teaching guitar at the Armed Forces School of Music in Virginia Beach, VA, I had the opportunity to meet and jam with Joe Pass. There was a local music store (A&E Music) where I liked to hang out and I found out they were bringing Joe there for a private in-store concert. They had not made any arrangements to pick him up, so I volunteered my services.

I picked Joe up from the Norfolk International Airport and drove him to his hotel where he checked in and asked the girl if she recognized his name. Of course she did not, so he told her he was a bikini salesman. He said he was tired and wanted to take a nap and he would call me later. I went home and paced. Finally he called, and when I got there he said he wanted to go to a grocery store. While there he told me he was teaching me how to go on the road when I got out of the service. He brought back a kiwi for the girl at the desk.

Somehow he knew I wanted to play from the first moment he saw me, even though I did not have a guitar with me at the time. When he called me back he said to bring my guitar, so after the short shopping trip, we went up to his room.

Ibanez Joe Pass Model

Joe rolled up his pant legs and wandered around the room like an old grandfather, checking pockets for stuff and just kind of muddling around. He finally grabbed his guitar gig bag and put it on the bed and began rummaging through the various pockets finally coming up with some picks. He used the small teardrop ones, but he cut off the top a bit leaving not much more than the point. Then he opened the gig bag and grabbed what I think was the proto-type for the Ibanez Joe Pass model and he handed it to me and said “play something”. As I recall, the strings were heavy flat wound and the action was high and I was scared to death. I played a few things for him, chord solo type things and he would nod and mumble a few times, but when I played ‘round Midnight he grabbed the guitar and said “I play it like this” and proceeded to play it very close to the way he played it on his virtuoso album. After that, he said “get your guitar”, and we sat next to the wall AC unit across from each other with a table in between and played for a good hour, just standard tunes. He would solo for a while and then say “go” and when he felt like it, he just jumped back in soloing. We were both exhausted at the end but what an experience.

I left Joe a Jazz chord book I had written hoping he would look at it and maybe give it an endorsement and I asked him if I could videotape the concert later that night at the music store. He said he would think about it and let me know later when I picked him up for the gig. In the end, he did let me videotape him with a promise that I wasn't going to sell it. It's a recording I still treasure. He eventually endorsed my Chord Book as well, although it came in the mail several months later. I had pretty much decided he wasn't going to send anything, but as soon as I gave up it arrived in the mail.

Me and Joe in the back room of the music store before he went on.

We had him over to the house the next day before he had to fly out and my wife made lasagna. I also invited two of my guitar buds to join us. We wanted Joe to play something so I gave him my guitar which was a beautiful black Gibson 347. He joked “you need to get a real guitar”, meaning a hollow body, but he played it anyway. Not too long after that visit I ordered my Ibanez Joe Pass model which was played many years later by George Benson, but that is another story. The lasagna must have been fine because when he left he thanked my wife and then kissed her on both cheeks.

All in all it was a great visit and Joe couldn't have been nicer. He commented about my minivan because at the time he had a wife, kids and a dog. Sometime after that though, I heard he divorced. I still miss Joe and his passing was a huge loss to the music world.

Here is a link to the video of the concert now on YouTube -