George Benson and Al Jarreau Collaborate

Farai Chideya talks with legendary jazz artists George Benson and Al Jarreau about their friendship and why it took more than 30 years for them to collaborate on their first CD Givin It Up.

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(Soundbite of song from album "Givin' It Up")

Mr. GEORGE BENSON (Singer): (Singing) I could have been an architect. I could have been a doctor. Been a good police, yeah, yeah, yeah, looking for a robber.

Mr. AL JARREAU (Singer): (Singing) I could have been an architect. I could have been a doctor. Been a good police, yeah, yeah, yeah, looking for a robber.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Separately, George Benson and Al Jarreau are each formidable. Benson is one of the greatest jazz guitarist and an amazingly versatile musician. Jarreau happens to be the only vocalist in history to win Grammy Awards in the jazz, pop and R&B categories. Together, these friends and label-mates for more than three decades have finally collaborated artistically to create their new CD, Givin' It Up.

These two phenoms join us in our NPR West studios. Welcome to you both.

Mr. BENSON: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Before we even started taping, you guys started singing together.

Mr. JARREAU: The electricity in this room just a little while ago was George singing the baseline that I came up with for...

Mr. BENSON: Jill Scott's version.

Mr. JARREAU: Yeah, for Jill Scott's version of God Bless the Child. George started singing.

(Soundbite of humming)

Mr. JARREAU: But I wasn't sure I recognized it, and then he stopped singing. But right on time, when it comes for the verse, we both went.

Mr. BENSON: (Singing) Then that's got.

Mr. JARREAU: (Singing) Then that's got.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: You got it.

Mr. JARREAU: And we had those kind of moments...

Mr. BENSON: Yup.

Mr. JARREAU: where there was just this togetherness.

CHIDEYA: You have so many great songs on this album, but what song do you think that you changed the most when - for this album? You know, because you have instrumental versions of songs with lyrics, lyrical versions of songs that were instrumentals. You know, how did you come up with the flow that allowed you to change things up?

Mr. JARREAU: That's a very interesting question. I don't know. I think we did it in a good way, the changes that we made in the songs so that the songs are recognizable but they've got a different something happening on them that makes people go, oh, that is Breezin'. But I didn't know somebody was singing, is that Al?

(Soundbite of song "Breezin'")

Mr. JARREAU: (Singing) All out of breath and out of time, we're feeling the grind. You spend your weekend (unintelligible). Just (unintelligible).

Mr. BENSON: It allowed Al to interpret Breezin' the way he wanted to, you know. And he came back the next day, he said I'll have some lyrics tomorrow. I said, wait, you don't have lyrics yet? He said no, I'll have them tomorrow. And sure enough he came in with some lyrics. And I left him alone and I said, well, Al was doing it his way, and that's what people want to hear. His interpretation of it, you know, so we left that alone.

(Soundbite of song "Breezin'")

Mr. JARREAU: (Singing) Don't you know (unintelligible), you're breezin'. Don't you know (unintelligible), you're breezin'. Don't you know (unintelligible), you're breezin'.

Mr. BENSON: And when I did his song, I hadn't paid any attention to it as an instrumental. And it's very difficult, you know, to take a song that's -especially with lyrics like his, as intriguing - I mean as beautifully done and as meaningful as the lyrics on Morning song. To turn them into an instrumental I had to really think about that. And I said well, the great thing that was captured on Al's original it was sun shiny, fresh, something that, you know, wakes you up, it gets the morning off to a good start. And that's as close I could come.

(Soundbite of song "Morning")

CHIDEYA: What's your favorite moment that you had on stage together while you were touring?

Ms. BENSON: Just being there. To tell you the truth, it was new for us. We always knew that this was going to happen, we just didn't know when. And time flies by so fast. I'm glad we had a chance to do it at this point because we still have all of that...

CHIDEYA: You've still got it?

Mr. BENSON: ...wonderful energy that we've always had and the freshness of our performance, and the - what we've learned over the years to help us make this, you know, make it easier to do this.

Mr. JARREAU: Mm-hmm.

(Soundbite of song "Giving it Up for Love")

Mr. BENSON: (Singing) I could have been an architect. I could have been a doctor. Been a good police, yeah, yeah, yeah, looking for a robber. Flew solo at Shanghai (Unintelligible). We're meant to be a loner. Could've put up a real good fight. I got a good chance, but I'm giving it up for love.

Mr. JARREAU: (Singing) I could have been an architect. I could have been a doctor. Been a good police, yeah, yeah, yeah, looking for a robber. Flew solo at Shanghai (Unintelligible). We're meant to be a loner. Could've put up a real good fight. I got a good chance, but I'm giving it up for love.

CHIDEYA: You mentioned Jill Scott, who you brought in on God Bless the Child. And you also got Paul McCartney involved.

Mr. JARREAU: Paul McCartney, that's a special one. Nobody called him...

Mr. BENSON: Well, he heard that we were on the complex, on the grounds. And he heard that I was doing a record with Al, that he and I we're doing record together. So he had never met Al, but he liked Al, and so did his wife.

He said that Al was his wife's favorite artist. So he had to meet him. So he came by to see me to pay his respects and to meet Al. And he stumbled into the studio out of the clear blue sky, we looked around, I said, man, that looks like - it is Paul.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song "Bring it on Home to Me")

Mr. BENSON: We were in middle of the song.

CHIDEYA: Right.

Mr. BENSON: It was playing on the speakers, and it suddenly dawned on me that -Paul, you know this song? Because I know he did. He said, yeah, yeah, I know it. How about you're doing this song here? You want to sing something on this with us? What did he say, Al?

Mr. JARREAU: Bloody hell, can you believe the cheek of this guy. I'm here doing me own record, he asks me to sing on his record.

Mr. BENSON: He kept his promise. He said, well, I'm doing my own thing. He said but if I get some time off, I'll come back. He did it because he loved me and Al. He said, George, I can do one take. And boy, did he tear that thing up. I said not only did he know the song, I mean he was deep inside it, you know.

Mr. JARREAU: Yeah.

Mr. BENSON: His interpretation was really off the cuff, real different. It was almost like a miracle that happened.

(Soundbite of song "Bring it on Home to Me")

Mr. PAUL MCCARTNEY (Musician): (Singing) Bring your sweet love, bringing it on home to me. Yeah.

Unidentified Woman: Yeah.

Mr. JARREAU: Yeah.

Unidentified Woman: Yeah.

Mr. BENSON: (Singing) Yeah. I give you jewelry and money too. That's not all I give to you. Oh if you bring it to me, bring your sweet loving. Bring it on home to me, girl.

Mr. PAUL MCCARTNEY (Singer): (Singing) I give you jewelry and money too. That's not all I give to you. Oh, if you bring it to me, bring your sweet loving. Bring it on home to me girl.

CHIDEYA: Before I let you two gentlemen go I just want you to do something for me. Give me one word about each other. Al, give me one word that sums up George for you?

Mr. JARREAU: One word?

CHIDEYA: One word.

Mr. JARREAU: Magnifique.

CHIDEYA: Magnifique?

Mr. JARREAU: Magnifique.

CHIDEYA: All right. All right, George, how about you describe your friend Al?

Mr. BENSON: Well, he's a phenomenon. That's what he is.

CHIDEYA: All right.

Mr. BENSON: Definitely.

CHIDEYA: Well, I think you both are. Grammy-winning label-mates George Benson and Al Jarreau have united for their first collaborative CD, Givin' It Up.

To hear music from the new project, log on to npr.org.

Gentlemen, thank you so much.

(Soundbite of song "Every Time You Go Away")

Mr. JARREAU: (Singing) ...every time you go away.

CHIDEYA: Thanks for sharing your time with us. We'll be back on Monday. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

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