Happy Birthday Benny Golson!

Happy Birthday Benny Golson!
Benny Golson is an ace tenor saxophone legend with a list of credits to his name that are both varied and jaw droppingly impressive. He has worked with many of the traditional greats – Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, John Coltrane, Count Basie, Benny Goodman – just to highlight a few names from throughout his career. He has written copious musical scores for film and television and commercials as well as making some highly significant and intelligent contributions of his own to jazz as a genre. Many of his own pieces – Whisper Not, Killer Joe, and Five Spot After Dark - and now considered to be standards and continue to enjoy acclaim and subsequent recordings by other artists. But even all of this is merely scratching the surface of Golson’s career. According to his very excellent website, Golson has recorded over 30 albums and written more than 300 compositions. So it seems timely that in recognition of his 80th birthday this week (although he looks and acts decades younger) Concord would release New time, New ‘tet which is the first (new) studio release from Golson in five years as well as The Best of Benny Golson which provides a concise overview of his career and progression as an artist.

I have to say that both of these cds are excellent value and provide a good overview of both new and old standards. Whatever the material – whether it is Golson’s own composition or an interpretation of others such as Sonny Rollins’ Airegin- you can guarantee it’s going to be a luscious, full-on experience. Alternating soft, fat waves of melody with hot numbers that would have their own grill marks if they were steak, Golson just never fails to please. These are both keeper cds that would convert any (thinking) person to jazz in my opinion. The sound is vital, fresh and very now even when the pieces themselves are not necessarily new. His accompanying musicians are all stellar as well and follow the sax closely in perfect sync.

Not showing any signs whatsoever of slowing down – and why should he - Benny Golson is also working on a college textbook (he has also been involved in lecturing and a special educational series with Wynton Marsalis) as well as putting the finishing touches on his autobiography. Most recently, only days after the presidential inauguration, Golson was honoured at the Kennedy Center with a celebration that spotlighted not only his 80th birthday but also his lengthy musical career. Once more doing what you love clearly works out well for the body as well as the mind! Incidentally, Golson strikes me as a really cool guy - he seems earthy and funny on his website and most of all, genuine. Enjoy.

Favourite tracks:

Al Jarreau does a sterling job of wrapping his vocals around Whisper Not on the new time, new ‘tet cd. With some inspired, lazy scatting and a smooth as butter delivery Jarreau achieves a sound that is totally different and really works. Because this song is also included on the Best of Benny Golson why not compare both versions and decide for yourself!

Verdi’s Voice (yes, that would be Giuseppe Verdi!) is a brilliant improvisation and lends itself to the sax so well it has to be heard to be believed. Again, stunningly conceived and executed.

Blues after Dark is a gentle, insistent tune written in the ‘50s but it’s just as relevant and classy now as it was then. Valentine’s Day is coming – this is perfect dinner music. Before OR after …

Players: new time, new ‘tet
Benny Golson: saxophone; Eddie Henderson: trumpet, flugelhorn; Steve Davis: trombone; Mike Ledonne: piano; Buster Williams: bass; Carl Allen: drums Special Guest: Al Jarreau: vocals on Whisper Not

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