(b Philadelphia, 25 Jan 1929). Tenor saxophonist, composer, and arranger. The first edition of this dictionary mistakenly gave his birthdate as 26 January; other sources, including his interview for Cadence, give 25 January. He studied piano (from the age of nine), organ, tenor saxophone (from the age of 14), and clarinet, and as a teenager played with Ray and Tommy Bryant, Jimmy Heath, John Coltrane, and Philly Joe Jones. Later he studied music at Howard University (1947–50), while performing with John Malachi, Leo Parker, and Charlie Rouse. He left the university to work as a musician, joining Tiny Grimes in 1950. In 1951, in Bullmoose Jackson’s band, he met Tadd Dameron, whose work was a great influence on Golson’s compositional style; two years later he played in a band led by Dameron. He then performed with Lionel Hampton (1953), Johnny Hodges (briefly in 1954), and Earl Bostic (1954–6), but began to make a name for himself as a member of Dizzy Gillespie’s band (mid-1956 – early 1958). By this time he had established a solo style that reflected the inspiration of Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins and had composed the first of several pieces that would become jazz standards – I Remember Clifford, Stablemates, and Whisper Not, which were later recorded by many prominent jazz groups. Stablemates appeared on the album Miles (1955, Prst. 7014), by Miles Davis’s new quintet, and Whisper Not on the album Lee Morgan, ii (1956, BN 1541); Golson supplied arrangements for but did not play on the latter.
While with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (February 1958 – February 1959), with whom he made his first European tour, Golson wrote Along Came Betty, Blues March, and Are You Real?. He recorded regularly as a leader (1957–62) and also took part in sessions with Sahib Shihab (1957), Jimmy Cleveland (1957, 1959), Abbey Lincoln, Art Farmer, and Milt Jackson (all 1958), and Blue Mitchell, Wynton Kelly, Curtis Fuller, Quincy Jones (who recorded his own arrangements of Golson’s compositions), and Lem Winchester (all 1959). After leaving Blakey he worked as a freelance in New York and studied with the composer Henry Brant. From autumn 1959 to 1962, with Art Farmer, he was leader of the Jazztet, a group with varying personnel that proved a successful vehicle for Golson’s writing.
Golson toured Japan with Jackie McLean in 1965 and made several trips to Europe in the mid-1960s to work as an arranger and performer; one such appearance is preserved in the video Benny Golson & Tubby Hayes (c mid-1990s [filmed 1966]). From 1966 to 1975 he worked in southern California in films and television, composing music for all the major studios, while continuing to write arrangements on a freelance basis; he rarely played saxophone during this period. Having then moved back east, in 1977 he performed at the Montreux festival and recorded with Fuller. In the 1980s he greatly reduced his studio commitments and resumed working regularly as a jazz musician. He recorded four new albums with his own small groups (1980–83) and participated in reunions with Blakey (1983, 1989). The Jazztet was revived (with one of its original members, Fuller) in 1982 for a tour of Europe and continued to perform and record until around 1990. From the late 1980s into the 1990s Golson led small groups (including a quintet with Terence Blanchard, 1990), performing and recording in Europe and New York, where in January 1992 he appeared for one night with Dizzy Gillespie at the Blue Note during the trumpeter’s last performances. In 1994 he played with Lionel Hampton’s Golden Men of Jazz, and the following year he recorded with James Williams’s trio accompanying Kevin Mahogany and once again re-formed the Jazztet for a European tour. In 1997 he began working with a newly formed memorial Jazz Messengers group, which in 1998 appeared as the Legacy of Art Blakey, featuring Benny Golson. Golson was also a member of the faculty of William Paterson College in New Jersey (c1992–4), toured as a lecturer on music, fulfilled commissions for large-scale classical works, and continued to contribute music for major films and television series; his distinguished awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship (1994) and a Jazz Masters Fellowship from the NEA (1996).
Golson has an idiosyncratic, elliptical, subdued improvisational style on tenor saxophone; he is also a disarmingly charming and articulate spokesman for jazz in his capacities as lecturer and bandleader, and around 1991 he participated in a PBS television series on the subject of creativity. Manuscript scores of his works are in the holdings of the BMI Archives in New York, and lead sheets to some of his recorded compositions appear in J. Aebersold: A New Approach to Jazz Improvisation, xiv: Eight Jazz Classics: Benny Golson (New Albany, IN, 1979) and The Genius of Benny Golson (Milwaukee, 1989). The principal publishers of his works are Berklee and CJC.
For illustration see Farmer, art.
* composed by Golson
As leader: Benny Golson’s New York Scene (1957, Cont. 3552); The Other Side of Benny Golson (1958, Riv. 290), incl. *Are You Real?; Benny Golson’s Philadelphians (1958, UA 4020), incl. *Stablemates; of Jazztet (with A. Farmer): Meet the Jazztet (1960, Argo 664), incl. *I Remember Clifford; Stockholm Sojourn (1964, Prst. 7361); California Message (1980, Tim. 177); One More Mem’ry (1981, Tim. 180); of Jazztet (with A. Farmer): The Jazztet: Moment to Moment (1983, SN 1066); Domingo (1991, Dreyfus 36557); Up Jumped Benny (1996, Arkadia 70741)
As sideman: L. Morgan: Lee Morgan, iii (1957, BN 1557), incl. *I Remember Clifford; A. Blakey: Moanin’ (1958, BN 4003), incl. *Along Came Betty, *Are You Real?, *Blues March; Paris Concert (1959, Epic 16009), incl. *Whisper Not; R. Kirk: Roland Kirk Meets Benny Golson (1963, Mer. 60844)
H. Frost: “Benny Golson,” DB, xxv/10 (1958), 19
“Benny Golson,” SJ, xxxvi/5 (1982), 248 [discography]
L. Tomkins: “Benny Golson,” CI, xxi (1982–3), no.3, p.20; no.9, p.16; no.12, p.12
S. Voce: “Benny Golson,” JJI, xxxv/12 (1982), 8; xxxvi/1 (1983), 6
J. Blum: “The Jazztet,” JT (1986), Nov, 18
L. Tomkins: “Balancing Creativity and Commercialism, by Benny Golson,” CI, xxv/1 (1988), 8
P. Carles and D. Michel: “Benny Golson: I Remember Blues March,” Jm, no.399 (1990), 40
“Interview with Benny Golson,” The Note, iii/2 (1991), 6
B. Golson and B. Bernotas: “My First Saxophone,” Saxophone Journal, xviii/1 (1993), 67
S. Gribetz: “Hearsay: Another Shade of Blues-ette,” JT, xxiv/1 (1994), 27
J.-M. Proust: “Along Came Benny,” Jm, no.450 (1995), 34
P. B. Matthews: “Benny Golson Interview,” Cadence, xx (1996), no.8, p.15; no.9, p.13; no.10, p.18
F. W. Sportis: “Benny Golson: Whisper Not,” Jh, no.545 (1997), 24 [incl. discography by G. Reynard and Y. Sportis]
G. Endress: “Benny Golson,” JP, xlvii/10 (1998), 33
B. Golson and J. Merod: “Forward Motion: an Interview with Benny Golson,” in The Jazz Cadence of American Culture, ed. R. G. O’Meally (New York, 1998), 32
T. Hershorn: “The Jazz Messengers Legacy Band,” JT, xxviii/4 (1998), 38
STEVEN STRUNK/BARRY KERNFELD