Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Golson, Benny

Golson, Benny, tenor saxophonist, composer, arranger; b. Philadelphia, PA 26 January 1929. Golson's first instrument was the piano. At 14, he picked up the tenor saxophone, inspired by Arnett Cobb. In the mid 40s he sat in on jam sessions on Philadelphia's Columbus Ave., and played informally at first and then on gigs with John Coltrane (from early 1945), Jimmy Heath, Philly Joe Jones, Percy Heath, Red Garland, Red Rodney, and others. Ray Bryant and Golson played regularly in late 1946 with bassist Gordon "Bass" Ashford. They performed one night a week at Joe Pitt's Musical Bar, and weekends at the Caravan Republican Club, for as long as six months at a stretch.

In 1947 he went to Howard University, graduating in 1950. He worked with Bullmoose Jackson frequently between July 1951 and March 1953, with Tadd Dameron who influenced Golson as a composer. He then worked with Lionel Hampton and Johnny Hodges (a short tour in (March) 1954 which also included Coltrane) and later with Earl Bostic. He also worked with Benny Goodman. In January 1955 James Moody recorded his "Blue Walk." Towards the end of the year, Miles Davis recorded "Stablemates" (Coltrane had brought it to the session), a song Golson began to write during an intermission of a show, when he stayed on the bandstand after spotting someone in the audience whom he wished to avoid. In 1956 he joined the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band and went on tour to South America. In November of that year the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra performed Golson's "Whisper Not" during a Bandstand USA radio broadcast from New York's Birdland. After Leonard Feather wrote words for it, "Whisper Not" was recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O'Day and Mel Torme. In July 1957 his "I Remember Clifford" was performed by the Gillespie Orchestra at the Newport Jazz Festival, and it was subsequently recorded by a host of artists. In 1957 he also recorded an album as a leader.

After the Gillespie Orchestra broke up early in 1958, Golson took the place of Jackie McLean in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. He stayed with Blakey for just under two years and, in that time, brought in fellow Philadelphians Lee Morgan, Jymie Merritt and Bobby Timmons. At the 1990 memorial for Art Blakey in Harlem's famous Abyssinian Baptist Church, all the participating musicians got together to play Golson's "Blues March" as the final number. Next he co-led the Jazztet with Art Farmer (1959-62, including a television appearance on Steve Allen 2/15/60 and a filmed appearance at Newport that year) with whom he introduced his popular "Killer Joe." He and Roach, Burrell, Hank Jones, Dizzy Reece, and Joya Sherill also opened 2/17/60 in Manhattan in a play, The Long Dream. From 1962 on Golson began devoting considerable time to studying arranging and composition, for which he'd been getting much work. In 1965, after returning from Europe where he'd been writing music for movies and television, he put away his horn and moved to Hollywood. He did arrangements for Lou Rawls, Eartha Kitt, Connie Francis, Ella Fitzgerald, Eric Burdon, Nancy Wilson, Sammy Davis Jr., Diana Ross, Mama Cass Elliot, and Percy Faith.

In 1974, while he continued to compose, he resumed his playing career, freelancing extensively and recording with Curtis Fuller, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw and Pharaoh Sanders. In 1983 he reconstituted the Jazztet and subsequently appeared with it, and also with his own quartet, in festivals all over the world. In 1987 the State Department sent him on a cultural tour of southeast Asia to New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma and Singapore, after which Philip Morris International sent him on assignment to Bangkok, Thailand to write music for the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra.

In 1989, he started a two-year residency at William Paterson College in Paterson, New Jersey, where he lectured on music to music students and on social matters to sociology students. In that same year he began work on a major text book for aspiring arrangers which is expected to run to a massive 750 pages. He has also given lectures at Stanford University, Rutgers University, and Berklee College. Since 1995 he has also been a member and musical director of the all-star saxophone repertory band, Roots, which toured extensively in Europe and has recorded four albums.

Meanwhile, he has continued to write music, undertaking a number of ambitious projects, including a 1993 concerto for bass, which was performed by Rufus Reid at Lincoln Center. A year later he was awarded a Guggenheim Scholarship which enabled him to get started on his second symphony. He continues to do soundtrack work, including the theme for the current edition of The Cosby Show. In 1995, together with J.J. Johnson and Tommy Flanagan, he was given the Jazz Masters award by the National Endowment of the Arts.

Modern Touch (1957); N.Y. Scene (1957); Gettin' with It (1959); Gone with Golson (1959); Meet the Jazztet Pop + Jazz = Swing (1962); (1960); Take a Number from 1 to 10 (1960); Free (1962); Just Jazz (1962); Reunion (1962); Turning Point (1962); Stockholm Sojourn (1964); Turn In, Turn on (1967); Killer Joe (1977); California Message (1980); One More Mem'ry (1981); Time Speaks (1982); Moment to Moment (1983); This Is for You, John (1983); Live (1991); Up Jumped Benny (1996); Tenor Legacy (1997); 40 Years of Benny Golson (together with a video concert and a video documentary, 1998); Terminal One (2004)

Films, radio and television:
He wrote scores and themes for M*A*S*H*, Mission: Impossible, Room 222, The Partridge Family, Mannix, It Takes A Thief, David Janssen's feature film, Where It's At, music for the Academy Awards, Run For Your Life, Mod Squad, The Karen Valentine Show, pilots for ABC, NBC, CBS and specials for BBC in London as well as feature films in Paris, France and Munich, Germany. He wrote music for national radio and television commercials for Canada Dry, Nissan, Chrysler, Dodge, Chevrolet, Gillette, Heinz Foods, Mattel Toys, Texaco, Orbach's, Liquid Plum'r, General Telephone, Monsanto, Carnation, Borateem, Parliament Cigarettes and others.

Golson, Benny (Killer Joe (Notable Press
Jim Merod, ed. Jazz As A Cultural Archive, special issue of Boundary 2 (Duke U., 1995), pp. 53-116
http://www.eclipse.net/~fitzgera: The Jazztet
Benny Golson, by Jamey Aebersold (vol. 14 of Aebersold's Play-A-Long series). Aebersold. [songbook with CD, or cassette]
Genius Of Benny Golson. Hal Leonard, 1989. [15 songs arr. for piano]
Golson has written an autobiography, yet unpublished.

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