Benny Golson is as renowned for his distinctive compositions and arrangements as for his innovative tenor saxophone playing. Major cornerstones of his career have included not only notable additions to the jazz canon, but also his work in film and television studios, and his contributions to jazz education.
Golson began on the piano at age nine, moving to the saxophone at age 14. He earned a degree from Howard University, then joined Bull Moose Jackson's band in 1951. Arranging and composing became a serious pursuit for him at the early encouragement of composer-arranger Tadd Dameron, whom he met in Jackson's band. Other early band affiliations included Lionel Hampton, Johnny Hodges, and Earl Bostic. He toured with the Dizzy Gillespie big band from 1956-58, then joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. His robust playing added extra kick to the band, and his solo on Bobby Timmons' song "Moanin'" is a classic. With the Messengers, Golson's writing skills blossomed as he contributed pieces for the band that have forever entered the jazz canon, including "Along Came Betty," "Blues March," "I Remember Clifford" (written upon the death of his friend Clifford Brown), "Killer Joe" (which later became a hit for Quincy Jones), and "Are You Real?"
After leaving the Messengers, he and Art Farmer formed the hard bop quintet known as the Jazztet. The original incarnation of the Jazztet lasted from 1959-62. In 1963, he moved to California and began to concentrate on composing and arranging. He scored music for European and American television and films, and essentially discontinued touring until 1982, when he and Farmer revived the Jazztet briefly. Thereafter he played more frequently, working in all-star aggregations, and completing commissioned assignments, such as an original orchestral work for the 100th anniversary of the Juilliard School of Music in 2005. His soundtrack credits include M*A*S*H, Mission Impossible, Mod Squad, and Ironside.
In 1987, Golson participated in a U.S. State Department tour of Southeast Asia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma, and Singapore. As a tribute to Art Blakey, Golson organized the Art Blakey Legacy Band tour of the U.S., Europe, and Japan from 1998 to 2000.
As an educator he has lectured, given clinics, and performed extended residencies at New York University, Stanford University, University of Pittsburgh, Cuyahoga Community College, Rutgers University, William Paterson College, and Berklee College of Music. Among his awards are a 1994 Guggenheim Fellowship and a 2007 Mellon Living Legend Legacy Award. Currently, he is working on two books: a major college textbook and his autobiography.
Benny Golson's New, York Scene, Original Jazz Classics, 1957
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