Like so many performers who have achieved unprecedented success in the music industry, George Benson’s career sprouted from humble roots — in America’s Steeltown.

“When I was seven years old, I took a ukulele to a paper stand,” Benson recalls. “I was selling newspapers in Pittsburgh. And somebody saw me with the ukulele and said, ‘Hey, boy, can you play that thing?’ I jumped into a song, and the people crowded round, my cousin passed his hat, and that was my first professional gig.”

George Benson actually got kicked out of his violin class as a child for learning his music by ear instead of reading the notation. Somehow, it all seemed to work out for the best.

Ten Grammy Awards later, as he makes his way north of the border for the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival, Benson certainly has a few more gigs to recount. But he credits his discovery of the jazz genre as a child, and legends like Charlie Christian, Benny Goodman and Charlie Parker, for inspiring the musical style that defines him.

“My music is variety ... but jazz is the powerhouse that has made me the musician I am today,” he said.

Like so many visitors to Vancouver, Benson says he is awed by the city’s spectacular beauty. But he says the longevity of the jazz festival is a testament to Vancouver’s passion for music.

“I think the fact that they have maintained a jazz festival says a lot,” he says, adding that Canadians are among his most enthusiastic fans.

Benson performs at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre at 9:15 p.m. Saturday.

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