A large crowd brimming with anticipation is waiting beside the ocean in Seaside Heights, NJ this Sunday, August 14, 2022 evening for the start of a summer concert on the beach by R&B and jazz superstar George Benson.
A former child prodigy from Pittsburgh, PA who grew up to become one of the greatest guitarists in jazz history, Benson is a versatile musician whose instrumental skills find him crossing easily from traditional jazz over to smooth jazz and from contemporary R&B to pop.
Benson sings in a lush, soulful tenor voice, and it is his talent for singing and playing that has earned him widespread acclaim and chart success, notably with his 1976 album Breezin’ which topped the Billboard charts and also took home Grammy Awards for Best Pop Instrumental Performance and Record of the Year. Altogether, Benson is the recipient of ten Grammy Awards and he’s also been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
On the beach stage in Seaside Heights, musicians including drummer Mark Simmons, bassist Chris Walker, percussionist Lilliana Del Los Reyes, keyboardist Tom Hall, guitarist Michael O’Neill, and musical director/keyboardist Randy Waldman take their places before the announcement, “Good evening! Please welcome to the stage Grammy Award-winning recording artist, Mr. George Benson!” is made.
Audience members stand and cheer for Benson, 79, as he takes the stage looking dapper in his magenta jacket and black shirt and slacks.
Opening with his rendition of “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” music lovers on the beach are immediately attracted to Benson’s silky smooth voice as he croons, “Strollin’ in the park, watching winter turn to spring/Walkin’ in the dark, seein’ lovers do their thing,” on this 1975 hit for Roberta Flack. After scat-singing on the verse, Benson dances on stage as he’s accompanied by his top-notch band.
The crowd cheers as Benson picks up his guitar to perform his interpretation of James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight.” With his jazzy and compelling voice, Benson sings the song’s well-known “Do me wrong, do me right/Tell me lies, but hold me tight” lyric before playing an intricate jazz guitar solo to enthusiastic applause.
Benson leads off on guitar on the intro to his 1980 hit, “Love X Love.” Audience members happily sing along with George on the song’s memorable “Love times love” refrain. Band members add background vocals as Benson performs under flashing colored lights to cheers, whistles, and applause.
Benson greets the audience joking, “Where are we, people? We’re in New Jersey, aren’t we?” After revealing, “One of my favorite guitarists, Tal Farlow, was from New Jersey, and I dedicate this night to him,” Benson announces, “This next song is kind of romantic.”
Segueing into his 1985 ballad, “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love for You,” the band’s full sound rises over the dunes and onto the Seaside Heights boardwalk as the musical arrangement modulates and builds to avid audience cheers and applause.
Purple lights glow as Benson performs “Lady Love Me,” accompanied by Mark Simmons’ expert percussion and Chris Walker’s rhythmic bass playing.
His voice sounding full and rich, Benson effortlessly croons the song’s catchy “Let me love you/One more time” chorus as audience members dance while holding up a single pointer finger each time the refrain’s “One more time” lyric comes around.
Rich orchestration fills the summer air as Benson straps on his guitar and launches into his biggest hit, 1976’s “Masquerade.” Music lovers in the crowd sing along to the song’s well-known “Are we really happy here with this lonely game we play?” lyric.
Benson sings and scats on the instrumental break under rays of light that illuminate the stage before musical director Randy Waldman plays a tasty jazz keyboard solo and audience members stand for George and his musicians’ impeccable performance.
Benson’s expert smooth jazz guitar playing is highlighted on his 1976 instrumental hit, “Breezin’,” a perfect selection for tonight’s performance on the beach.
Following a standing ovation, Benson invites percussionist Lilliana De Los Reyes to join him downstage on a duet version of “Moody’s Mood for Love.” Crooning to one another, De Los Reyes’ clear sweet voice compliments Benson’s effortless smooth vocal before Benson scats to the crowd on this well-known jazz vocalese number.
De Los Reyes is featured as a soloist on a funky cover version of Rufus and Chaka Kahn’s “Ain’t Nobody” which has concertgoers happily dancing in the sand. When Benson returns to the stage, he exclaims, “Let’s try this one, too, while we’re at it!” and he and the band segue into his 1981 hit, “Turn Your Love Around.” With its smooth R&B and funk groove, audience members dance as they sing along on the song’s memorable “Turn your love around/Don’t you turn me down” chorus before erupting into cheers and applause.
Continuing with his formidable catalog of hits, Benson grabs his guitar as he declares, “We’re gonna turn this night into a party!” and begins to play the sliding guitar intro to his 1980 smash, “Gimme the Night.”
Complete with record-copy background vocals and his signature jazz-infused accenting guitar chords, Benson’s vocal and instrumental performance brings cheers from the crowd. Music lovers in the audience clap with their hands over their heads as they dance to the irresistible groove of George Benson and his expert musicians.
After his musical colleagues are introduced, Benson performs a series of encores starting with an upbeat rendition of his 1982 UK hit, “Never Give Up On a Good Thing.”
Audience members dance by the sea under lights that swirl to the happy upbeat tune.
The crowd whistles and cheers and Benson asks, “Some more of that crazy stuff, people?” before acknowledging, “One of my friends wrote this song.” Segueing into his 1986 UK hit, “Shiver” — co-written by Narada Michael Walden — Michael O’Neill impresses with a rock guitar solo and Chris Walker offers up a funky and low bass solo as Benson scats and dances to the band’s funky groove.
The audience hoots and hollers and Benson announces, “We’re in New Jersey, people, and the greatest vocalist of all time was born in New Jersey!” Here, he tells the crowd about how a young Whitney Houston informed him she planned to release her own version of his 1977 hit, “The Greatest Love of All.” Launching into the ubiquitous power ballad, audience members are mesmerized as Benson expertly croons the song’s famous “I believe the children are our future/Teach them well and let them lead the way” lyric.
Conducting the band as he vocalizes, the arrangement soars with Benson’s vocal power, grace, and talent, and the crowd reacts by leaping to its feet with cheers and applause.
“This is a great place, people! Thank you for inviting us!” exclaims Benson as he grabs his guitar and launches into his 1978 hit, “On Broadway.” With its rhythmic accompaniment, Benson sings, “They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway,” and the audience cheers when he delivers the lyric, “‘Cause I can play this here guitar!” Following an incredible scat singing/guitar solo, Benson and the band exit the stage leaving drummer Mark Simmons to solo with snappy beats and intricate rhythms which elicit cheers from the crowd. Benson and the band return and the song continues with a dance party on the beach that ends with audience members on their feet whistling, cheering, and applauding.
“We love you!” exclaims Benson. “Thank you very much!”
As concertgoers leave the beach and make their way onto the Seaside Heights boardwalk, we chat with several music lovers in the crowd who share their thoughts on George Benson’s performance tonight. Declares Miriam from Monroe Township, “George Benson was just fantastic! I love listening to his recordings, and at 79, he’s still got it! He was perfect, and ‘The Greatest Love of All’ was especially well done.”
Kelley from Elizabeth agrees, adding, “I’ve been listening to George Benson since I was nine years old. I’m a choreographer and I use his songs in dance competitions. This was one fabulous concert! George was awesome, everything was right on point, and the band was fantastic, too,” before noting, “I can’t wait to come see more groups here on the beach!”
Jai from Montclair calls tonight’s performance “One great show!” Confessing to being a “lifelong George Benson fan,” Jai acknowledges, “ I loved being out on the beach seeing the ocean and the rides as the backdrop to George’s incredible concert.” Lenny from Pittsburgh, PA concurs, declaring, “Seeing my hometown’s own George Benson with the boardwalk in the background was great!” whereas Jeff, also from Pittsburgh, deems tonight’s show, “Excellent.”
Donna from Bergen County considers Benson’s performance tonight “Amazing — just spectacular!” prior to adding, “He sounds exactly the same as he did 30 years ago.” Lisa from NYC agrees, noting, “Not only was his performance impressive but, at nearly 80 years old, he looks amazing, too!”
Kristin from Toms River maintains, “George Benson’s performance tonight was superior! I’ve loved his music for years, but I’d never seen him perform live. My son is a professional guitarist and George Benson has been a real inspiration to him,” before revealing, “My son even got to meet Mr. Benson tonight before the show and he just exploded with appreciation!”
Lastly, we chat with Gwen and Sam from Philadelphia, PA. Declares Gwen, “It was an excellent concert! George can still play that guitar, and he went all the way back to the ’70s and ’80s with his music which made for an exceptionally fine evening. I hope they’ll continue to have more shows like this one on the beach — if so, we’ll be back.”
Whereas Sam confesses, “I haven’t been to Seaside Heights in ages, but it’s really beautiful here,” he further insists, “George Benson was fantastic tonight — just great! I loved all of his songs, and his band was awesome, too,” prior to exclaiming, “It was a real treat!”
To learn more about George Benson, please go to georgebenson.com. For info on upcoming concerts and events in Seaside Heights, NJ please click on exit82.com.
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