¡§Benny Golson writes tunes you remember,¡¨ wrote the Newark Star-Ledger in March 2001, while reviewing a major Golson retrospective at the Lincoln Center in New York. ¡§Some of them are hummable, but even the more intricate ones leave an indelible impression. That¡¦s what makes Golson one of jazz¡¦s most important living composers.¡¨
At 75, Golson continues to project an equally significant voice on his instrument of choice, the tenor saxophone. In 2001, Downbeat Magazine wrote, ¡§Golson¡¦s sound"oan immense tone, by turns buttery and burly, informed by a wide harmonic knowledge that grounds stories replete with lyric detail and operatic flourish"ois singular on the tenor tree.¡¨
Out of Philadelphia, PA, Golson developed his compositional identity on jobs with master bop composer Tadd Dameron and rhythm-and-blues bands led by the likes of Tiny Grimes, Bull Moose Jackson and Earl Bostic. In 1955, James Moody recorded ¡§Blue Walk¡¨ on a septet session for Prestige. Later that year, the Miles Davis Quintet with John Coltrane (the latter his close Philly chum) recorded ¡§Stablemates.¡¨ This was the first of numerous Golson tunes"oto name a few, ¡§Killer Joe,¡¨ ¡§Blues March,¡¨ ¡§I Remember Clifford,¡¨ ¡§Whisper Not¡¨ and ¡§Along Came Betty¡¨"othat would become essential signposts of modern jazz.
In the ensuing half-century, Golson has recorded over 30 albums under his own name for record labels in the United States, Europe and Japan and another dozen with the Jazztet, a sextet he co-founded in 1960 with flugelhornist Art Farmer. He has been a sideman to such luminaries as Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Lionel Hampton, and Benny Goodman, and has composed and arranged music for artists as diverse as Itzhak Perlman, Quincy Jones, Shirley Horn, Diana Ross, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, George Shearing, Dusty Springfield, Carmen McRae, Peggy Lee, and Lou Rawls. During the 1960s and ¡¥70s he broached the mainstream, writing scores for popular TV shows like ¡§M*A*S*H,¡¨ ¡§Mission Impossible,¡¨ ¡§Mod Squad,¡¨ ¡§Room 222,¡¨ and ¡§The Partridge Family,¡¨ for more than a few made-for-TV movies, and for a host of national radio and television spots for some of the major advertising agencies in the country. Recently of note, Golson co-wrote ¡§Monk¡¦s Hat¡¨ with Bill Cosby, the theme from the 1996 TV show, ¡§Cosby.¡¨
Three new additions to Golson¡¦s distinguished corpus appear on Terminal 1, his Concord Records debut. It¡¦s Golson¡¦s homage to director Steven Spielberg, a long-time jazz fan, who summoned the saxophonist to Montreal in early 2004 to perform a small speaking role and play his instrument in ¡§The Terminal,¡¨ a film starring Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Stanley Tucci. Spurred by an all-star quintet (Eddie Henderson, trumpet; Mike LeDonne, piano; Buster Williams, bass; Carl Allen, drums), Golson plays with undiminished imagination and energy. On the title track, as always, he transmutes the heady experience into his own artistic expression.
¡§The piece symbolizes the comings and goings of people in all airports around the world,¡¨ Golson says. ¡§Crowds of people within, and all scenarios"olocations, emotions"otake place there. The drums represent the crowds of people, and seem to have a free, loose reign during the opening strains and the playing of the melody, which accompanies the crowd (drums) here, and also during the first chorus of each solo. You¡¦ll notice that the mood fluctuates between a laid back pulse to a pressing straight ahead 4/4 feeling, indicating that nothing is ever exactly the same in any airport. The piece ends with the diminishing sound of the drums"oairport crowd murmur, if you will"oas we slowly pull away pursuing the clouds in mid heaven.¡¨
Golson¡¦s other new offerings are ¡§Caribbean Drifting,¡¨ an effervescent line with a feeling akin to Jamaican Mento folk music, and ¡§Our Last Goodbye,¡¨ the latest in a distinguished line of bittersweet Golson ballads.
Golson also finds fresh ways to approach three of his classic refrains. In the film, Golson performs ¡§Killer Joe,¡¨ which, as he puts it, ¡§seems to have taken on a life all its own¡¨ since he first played it on Meet The Jazztet (1960). ¡§I think the thing that helped it catch on is its distinctive and unrelenting beat, and the sound of the muted trumpet which is so often associated with night life in the city,¡¨ Golson continues. ¡§I¡¦ve heard many performers request a ¡¥Killer Joe beat¡¦ for certain songs. Of course, I¡¦m quite delighted, because I had no idea not only that the tune would become memorable, but also legendary!¡¨
Also reprised from Meet The Jazztet is the poignant ¡§Park Avenue Petite,¡¨ featuring a ravishing statement by Eddie Henderson on muted trumpet and a romantic Golson turn. This version of ¡§Blues March,¡¨ which Golson famously debuted in 1958 on Art Blakey¡¦s ¡§Moanin¡¦,¡¨ differs from others in that the solos maintain the chords of the melody instead of transitioning to the straight blues.
Golson stamps his identity on a trio of jazz standards from his early years. He records for the first time ¡§Sweet Georgia Brown,¡¨ composed by Maceo Pinkard in 1925. ¡§This was the tune that seemed to prove a musician¡¦s mettle back in Philadelphia when so many of us were starting out,¡¨ he recalls. ¡§During the first half of the melody I use a battery of substitute chords accompanied by a 2/4 beat; all remaining sections are straight-ahead 4/4 with no alterations.¡¨ Nor has Golson previously documented ¡§Cherry,¡¨ a popular ditty written in 1928 by the legendary arranger Don Redman; his soulful solo evokes the rent parties and street life on Page Street in North Philadelphia when Golson was a boy. And Golson challenges himself by changing keys on Dave Brubeck¡¦s ¡§In Your Own Sweet Way,¡¨ which he ranks with Thelonious Monk¡¦s ¡§Round Midnight¡¨ as ¡§one of the most beautiful tunes in jazz.¡¨
With Terminal 1 Golson demonstrates that, whether recontextualizing the past or grappling with the present, he continues to be emblematic of the spirit of adventure that drives jazz music. As he puts it: ¡§Though the future will always have an indistinguishable face, many of those who engage in jazz as performers and writers try creatively and indefatigably to give it one of their own making by coming into tandem with time, boldly making it their confederate while it moves unremittingly forward, not backing up for mistakes, regrets, or failures.¡¨