Happy Birthday Benny Golson

January 25, 1929

A birthday tribute to the great hard bop tenor-saxophonist and composer

Tenor-saxophonist, composer and arranger Benny Golson was born on January 25, 1929 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

After beginning on the tenor-sax, Golson was active as a professional musician from the time he was in high school.

He graduated from Howard University, toured with Bull Moose Jackson’s r&b band; Tadd Dameron, Jackson’s pianist-arranger during the period, became an influence on Golson’s writing.

Golson made his recording debut in 1949 with Tiny Grimes and also recorded with Bull Moose Jackson and altoist Jimmy Preston but his jazz career really began in 1953 when he was on a Tadd Dameron session that included Clifford Brown.

He worked with Earl Bostic and in 1956-57 was part of the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band where he was better known as a writer (during this period he composed “I’ll Remember Clifford” and “Whisper Not”) then a tenor-sax soloist although he soon developed in the latter area too.

In 1957 Golson began to emerge as a tenor-saxophonist who was influenced by Lucky Thompson and Don Byas, leading his first session and working with Dinah Washington and Art Farmer.

As a member of the Jazz Messengers during 1958-59, Golson helped organize a Philadelphia edition of the group that included Lee Morgan, Bobby Timmons and Jymie Merritt, and contributed such songs as “Blues March,” “Are You Real” and “Along Came Betty.”

Golson made many recordings as a sideman in 1959 and then co-led the Jazztet with Art Farmer, contributing the hit “Killer Joe.”

After the Jazztet broke up in 1962, Golson focused much more on his work as an arranger-composer, gradually de-emphasizing his tenor playing to work in the studios, making no recordings as a saxophonist during 1968-76

In 1977 Golson returned to active playing, displaying a more modern tone (more reminiscent of Archie Shepp than of Lucky Thompson) and continuing an active performance career up to the present time, showing no age or decline as he neared 90.

Here is Benny Golson playing “Killer Joe” with a quartet that includes pianist Willie Pickens.

-Scott Yanow


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