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Sure-bets at Concord Jazz Festival

George Benson
Ken Kranckling

Boss Guitar: George Benson started big but has never quite caught up to his reputation.

George Benson and Tony Bennett headline Sept. 2829 festival

By Nicky Baxter

Over its 28-year existence, the Fujitsu Concord Jazz Festival has acquired a reputation for rounding up sure-bet stars, artists whose music is smack dab in the middle of the road. It's no surprise, then, that this year's two-day fete showcases safe-and-sound acts like Tony Bennett, Joe Williams and Brother Jack McDuff. Cassandra Wilson is this year's singular exception, supplying a nice balancing act to her more established(ment) peers. Establishment or not, the aforementioned jazz vets didn't get where they're now at without a surfeit of talent. Take Tony Bennett (Saturday's headliner) and George Benson (Sunday) for instance.

The man who left his heart in San Francisco didn't become an MTV icon overnight, a fact that made his "rearrival" in the late '80s all the sweeter. Bennett's throaty baritone, sensuous but never overheated, was matched only by Sinatra's in the latter's glory days. Whether rockin' a snappy joint like "I Wanna Be Around," a tear-jerker like "I Wont Cry Anymore" or getting it on with Ray Charles on "Everybody Has the Blues," Bennett's on point.

The same was once said of guitarist and vocalist Benson, at least until he opened his mouth. In the early 1960s, Benson was considered by many players and pundits to be Wes Montgomery's heir apparent. Thanks to the high visibility working with Brother Jack McDuff afforded the young guitarist, Benson snared a recording contract and released the highly regarded The New Boss Guitar of George Benson. In the intervening years, Benson has bounced between commercial notoriety by trilling for big bank and ax-picking, presumably for art's sake.

The Fujitsu Concord Jazz Festival takes place Saturday (Sept. 28) at 7pm and Sunday (Sept. 28) at 6pm at Concord Pavilion, 2000 Kirker Pass Road, Concord. Tickets are $19.50$32.50 Saturday; $15$27.50 Sunday. (510/671-3100)

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