The Jazz.com Blog
January 27, 2009 · 0 comments
Without Benny Golson’s gifts, hard-bop would have emerged far less abundant with charming straight-ahead standards than it did. Influenced as a writer by Tadd Dameron, and drawing inspiration from Swing Era saxophonist Arnett Cobb, Golson left an indelible brand on some legendary albums of small group jazz on Prestige, Riverside, and Blue Note Records—such as Art Blakey’s Moanin’ and Meet the JazzTet alongside Art Farmer. All over these seminal classics, Golson’s melody writing is cohesive. No superfluous note choices exist, and more loosely directional chord projections than one typically finds in standards supply the foundation. All of these elements lend Golson’s music a hipness that carries over into his attractive, sinewy improvisations.
Golson, who spent a large portion of his career away from the saxophone, has returned to the upper-echelon of touring jazzmen as he now turns 80 years young. It fell on many well-wishers at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to give him spirited hellos and reminiscence with a showcase evening. Hosted by Danny Glover, and featuring the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra in addition to other guests, the evening brought together a community of jazz stars to hear and recognize one of the most humble and amiable giants of this music as he led two small groups and soloed with the CHJO.
Video footage told the story of his rise to stardom from his early days in Philadelphia, and incorporated interviews with musical partners Curtis Fuller, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Heath, Carl Allen, and Golson himself. John Clayton conducted the CHJO demonstratively, and shaped the music with skill on familiar Golson compositions such as “Along Came Betty,” “Stablemates,” and towards the end of the program, the melancholy ballad “I Remember Clifford.” Golson’s two groups suited the favorite standards well, but also featured the intellectual, the precious, and the romantic within the composer’s muse.
This show also coincided with the release of two new CD’s by Golson, one of classic hits, and the other by The New JazzTet, featuring Golson, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, trombonist Steve Davis, pianist Mike LeDonne, bassist Buster Williams, and drummer Carl Allen. Concord has released both albums, The Best of Benny Golson and New Time, New ‘Tet in conjunction with the Kennedy Center performance.
Other than Golson, there were numerous National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Masters present on stage as well as seated in the house on Saturday. Besides Eugene “Snooky” Young in the trumpet section of the CHJO, Golson shared musical duties with Fuller, and bassist Ron Carter. Taking in the show were Randy Weston, Jimmy Heath, Reggie Workman, Oliver Lake, Dr. Billy Taylor, and many other marvels, including Kenny Barron, who subsequently received the Living Legends award from the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation in a private ceremony after the program recognizing Golson. It was clear that on this evening, the community was organized, and the blessings of music filled the recently renovated Eisenhower Theatre.
Golson and his All-Star Quintet of Fuller, pianist Cedar Walton, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Al Harewood, presented their relaxed, in-the-pocket soloing, and happily swung the standards “Fivespot After Dark” and “Love, Your Magic Spell Is Everywhere.” Fuller began heating up by the second number, and inspired the other musicians on stage. The New JazzTet presented some surprises, full of challenging, if at times unnatural, writing. Golson’s love of romantic music runs deep, and he channeled the wellspring of two European classical masters with “Verdi’s Voice” (employing a waltz strain from an operatic melody by Verdi) and “L’Adieu” by Chopin. Surprising musical structures abound in these multi-strained pieces, and moments of clarity are offset by counterpoint, and occasionally, jerky transitions.
The odd, dreamy reflections illustrated by the New JazzTet were tempered by a more hip selection written by band trombonist Steve Davis called “Grove’s Groove,” displaying a Roy Hargrove-esque soulfulness. Closing out the first half, the CHJO was more enthused with playing on the unexpectedly pretty arrangement of the up-tempo “Stablemates.” Subsequently, the audience (and Golson as well) were treated to a pop-in appearance by another Philadelphian of note—Bill Cosby—who insisted that he wanted to play a tune he wrote when he was only four years old. With drums and bass á la Booker T. and the M.G.’s, Cosby banged and crushed the piano keys and got a few laughs before waving goodbye.
The addition of a lengthy solo piano work by Golson entitled “On Gossamer Wings,” performed by Lara Downes at the beginning of the second half, was a welcome addition in an otherwise straight-ahead blowing session. Further video footage supplied backstory on Golson’s switch from jazz performance to studio composition in Hollywood. Tributes also came from co-stars of the feature film The Terminal, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, in pre-recorded video. The New JazzTet swung “Whisper Not” with the addition of vocals by Al Jarreau, followed by The Uptown String Quartet, led by John Blake, Jr., which earned animated applause with their pizzicato arrangement of “Blues March.” Soloists with the most flare were pianist Mike LeDonne and trumpeter Eddie Henderson, trombonist Curtis Fuller, and bassist Ron Carter. Golson, whose saxophone reed, as Cosby put it, had all the pliability of a “floor board,” also gave his all on each selection, making great strides with poised, yet intricate lines. The refined Golson seemed to have the most fun on stage, relishing the playing of bandmates like Fuller and Henderson, and as always, digging in with his own brand of well-measured, medium octane solos.
This blog entry posted by David Tenenholtz