Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jazz great Benson 'warm and welcoming'

Local guitarist thrilled to talk shop with one of his idols at jazz fest

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Winnipeg guitarist Aaron Shorr had the best seat in town to see George Benson; he sat beside the man at the King's Head Pub for about half an hour, talking shop.

Guitarist and singer Benson was one of the Winnipeg International Jazz Festival's highlights, delighting a near sold-out crowd at the Burton Cummings Theatre on June 23 that put up with sweltering heat to hear their favourites from the Benson repertoire.

Shorr not only played in the opening act, Walle Larsson's band, he got to hang out with Benson just like a couple of working guitarists shooting the breeze.

So what do a young guitarist and fan and a recognized guitar master talk about on a Sunday night?

"We talked about guitar amps, about meeting (organist and band leader) Lonnie Smith for the first time and about (great jazz guitarist) Grant Green," Shorr says.

To be honest, he says the half-hour or so he spent with Benson "was a bit of a blur. Just to be able to rub shoulders with him was great."

"George was warm and welcoming. It was like hanging out with another working musician; it just happens he's the best," Shorr says.

Benson talked about having to lug heavy guitar amps up the stairs of his apartment block in New York when he was starting out. "He thinks about all of the same things all musicians do," Shorr adds, only he doesn't have to carry his own amps anymore.

Benson "basically created the instrumental R&B genre," Shorr says. "Because he's such a pop star, people forget he's still the greatest guitar player around and nobody can touch him."

So how does a star like Benson get to the King's Head? Well, it's a Winnipeg thing. Drummer Curtis Nowosad, who also played in Larsson's band, told Benson's bass player, Stanley Banks, that he had a gig at the pub later and Banks took Benson down. And the guitar tech that night happens to be a tour manager for Winnipeg's the Duhks. You know, just a Winnipeg thing; if you don't know everyone, you soon will.

 

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If you saw photos posted on Facebook of wet crowd members in Old Market Square during the Winnipeg International Jazz Festival's opening weekend, you might have felt sorry for the organizers.

Don't worry. "Opening weekend was pretty huge for us," says Paul Nolin, executive producer of Jazz Winnipeg. People came out to enjoy the festivities despite the sometimes-inclement weather.

It's difficult to track actual attendance at a free outdoor event like the four nights of free music, but "the volume of beer sales made a great start" for the June 13-23 festival of outdoor, club and theatre shows.

"The rest of the week had really big crowds in most clubs," Nolin says, and theatre audiences met expectations. It could be two or three weeks before all the bills are in and ticket revenues tallied to get a concrete idea of finances, he says, but "I think I'm going to sleep at night."

 

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In March 2012, a host of Winnipeg jazz musicians held a concert/live recording session at the now-defunct Aqua Books store at 274 Garry St., in a room whose sound they loved, before the store was to move.

The idea was to celebrate Aqua's support of music and raise money for Aqua owner Kelly Hughes' plan to open a new venue in the Exchange District, called Winnipeg's Cultural City Hall.

That venture fell apart, leaving jazz fest and fringe festival performers scrambling for replacement venues.

The recording of the concert is ready and a release party is set for Tuesday, July 16, at Centre culturel franco-manitobain.

Drummer Curtis Nowosad, who performs on the CD and produced it, said its release was delayed awaiting the outcome of the Cultural City Hall plan, but he's moving to New York soon to work on a masters degree at the Manhattan School of Music and had to move on the CD.

Besides, "When I listened to the mix, it sounded so good."

There were about 100 pre-orders, Nowosad says, and the recording, Farewell 274: Winnipeg's Music Community Celebrates Aqua Books, will be available at McNally Robinson Books, Into the Music and Music Trader, as well as online at iTunes, CD Baby and Amazon.

Money raised at the concert and some donations covered the CD productions costs, Nowosad says. No money went to the Cultural City Hall project, and if it does get off the ground, musicians can aid it then, he adds.

Performers at the CD release include Nowosad, Sheena Rattai, Amber Epp, Sol James, Rayannah Kroeker, Steve Kirby, Will Bonness, Luke Sellick and many others. Tickets are $10. chris.smith@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 2, 2013 D3

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