Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 25 Jan. '29, Philadelphia PA) Tenor saxist with an easy, authoritative style, originally influenced by Lucky Thompson, to a lesser extent by Don Byas, then by a touch of Coltrane; also important and influential as arranger/composer. Studied piano as a child, sax from age 14; studied at Howard U in Wash. DC, gigged in Philadelphia. Friends with Coltrane from an early age, as well as the Heath brothers, other locals; those were the days when high-school kids' heroes were Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Golson was nicknamed 'Professor'. Left Philadelphia '51 in Bull Moose Jackson band, where he met Tadd Dameron, who encouraged interest in composing and arranging; played in Dameron's group, then with Lionel Hampton '53, Johnny Hodges '54 (with Coltrane), Earl Bostic (after Coltrane). James Moody was first to record a Golson tune ('Blue Walk' on James Moody's Moods '55); Coltrane took 'Stablemates' to a Miles Davis recording session '55 and a Mal Waldron date '56, both on Prestige: it became a modern jazz classic, along with 'Whisper Not', 'I Remember Clifford', others. With Dizzy Gillespie big band '56-- 8 that toured for the US State Dept; with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers several months, he revitalized it. Blakey was disorganized; Golson told him he should be making more money and showed him how to do it. Golson suggested Lee Morgan, Bobby Timmons, Jymie Merritt on bass (all from Philadelphia); the band transformed, Golson wrote tunes and inspired the others, seeing that original material would give the band an identity; he cajoled Timmons into developing a funky fragment that became 'Moanin' '. Blakey turned out to be a great talent scout, and Golson had lit the fire under one of the greatest jazz bands of all time.

He led his own quintet mid-'59, then formed the Jazztet with Art Farmer '59--62 (see Farmer's entry). More and more active as a writer, virtually gave up performing for a while: did studio work, wrote for Peggy Lee, Lou Rawls, Nancy Wilson, Sammy Davis Jr, many others. There was an entire concert of his compositions at NYC's Town Hall '75; by then well-known tunes incl. 'Along Came Betty', 'Blues March', 'Just By Myself', 'Little Karin', 'Five Spot After Dark'. Many fine albums under his own name all with superb cast incl. Benny Golson's New York Scene '57 on Contemporary; The Modern Touch and Benny Golson's Philadelphians '57--8, both on Riverside (later Milestone two- disc Blues on Down); Gone With Golson, Groovin' With Golson, Gettin' With It all on New Jazz (Prestige) '59; Take A Number From 1 To 10 '60 on Argo; Just Jazz! sessions '62 on Audio Fidelity issued on various LPs with and without dubbed strings and woodwinds arr./cond. by Golson. Quartet LPs Turning Point on Mercury (Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb), Free on Argo (Tommy Flanagan, Ron Carter, Art Taylor), both '62, described by Golson late '60s as his own favourites (quoted by Leonard Feather). Arr./cond. large international orchestra on Stockholm Sojourn '64 on Prestige. Long hiatus as leader broken by quintet Are You Real '77, unissued; then Killer Joe '77 on Columbia: a large orchestra with strings arr. by Golson and Bobby Martin; with vocalist Mortonette Jenkins and female back- up vocal group. California Message '80, One More Mem'ry '81, Time Speaks '82 (to the memory of Clifford Brown), This Is For You, John '83 all small-group LPs on Timeless. Appeared at Ronnie Scott's in London '85 with excellent quartet incl. Mickey Tucker, Phil Bowler, Keith Copeland, played 'Voices All' (mysteriously suggestive riff), 'Jam The Avenue' (tone-poem reminiscence of teen-aged jam sessions in Philadelphia), 'Blue Heart' (blues ballad), as well as early classics ('Are You Real?') and tunes by Tucker. Quartet Up Jumped Benny '86 came out on Arkadia '97; with Freddie Hubbard he made Stardust '88 on Denon by the Golson/Hubbard Quintet with Freddie, Mulgrew Miller, Ron Carter and Marvin 'Smitty' Smith; he also reactivated the Jazztet. Sextet Blues For Miles '92 on Evidence (aka I Remember Miles) and quartet Live '94 on Dreyfus both had Miller.