Of the two effortlessly breezy jazz guitarists playing Sunday’s George Benson concert at Wolf Trap, one will be 71 years old, the other 17.
Andreas Varady, who will open the show, has been a fan of Benson since he was 4, when he started playing guitar — “more like a ukulele with six strings,” he says over the phone from his home in Dublin.
But the guitarist, who picked up the instrument from his musician father, picked it up very fast. By the time the family moved from Slovakia to Ireland, he got attention busking on corners, doing runs on old standards at age 10.
“People really enjoyed it,” he says of the street-corner playing. “There were people circling us and it was really, really fun.”
Just as important was the circle gathering on the Internet, where several of his YouTube videos showing an impossibly young boy with complete command of the fretboard drew more than 100,000 views each. Eventually he got the ear of producers, managers, festival runners and other musicians.
When Quincy Jones got a load of what he was doing, Varady was enlisted to join his Global Gumbo Group project with Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez and vocalist Nikki Yanofsky.
Jones, who has produced work from Lionel Hampton and Frank Sinatra to Michael Jackson, is co-producer (along with another Grammy winner, David Foster), of Varady’s self-titled U.S. debut, out this month on Verve Records.
The teen musician gives his jazzy take on songs from Django Reinhardt to Steely Dan, with one of his own compositions thrown in.
“Definitely, I want to write a lot of my own music,” Varady says.
But its direction may surprise some of his jazz fans.
“Obviously, I have a huge passion for jazz,” he says, “but I have also other interests such as, for example, I love electronic music and hip hop music, too.”
He’s met and played festivals with Benson before, but Wolf Trap will be the first time they’ve shared the stage for a gig. Varady says he isn’t intimidated by his hero.
“He’s definitely very supportive. He’s really a really nice guy,” Varady says of his mentor. “A funny guy, too. We have the same agent, and stuff, so it was cool to do this together.”
They may actually be helping each other.
“It’s kind of weird. People say that kids my age wouldn’t be listening to jazz. I mean, obviously a majority don’t listen to much jazz,” he says. “But at my gigs, when I play or when I open for George, I always see my age people.”
Catlin is a freelance writer. Andreas Varady opens the George Benson concert tonight at 8 at Wolf Trap. Tickets are $25-55. Call 877-965-3872 or visit WolfTrap.org.