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Benny Golson

A while ago I started interviewing and writing about George Russell and I fell in love with his latest album New York N.Y., which was originally released on Decca. The line up of musicians on the album is absolutely incredible so I decided that I would try to speak with as many of the musicians who had played on the album as I could.

One of the musicians I was fortunate enough to speak with was Benny Golson. At the time I first spoke withBenny GolsonI wasn’t using a tape recorder, so when he came to an important point, he would slow down so I could get what he said exactly. Since what he said was quotable he immediately won my gratitude.

About a year later Benny agreed to speak with me about his music. That was in September of 2005. I have had that interview ready to be processed and published but I just kept listening to it and not transcribing. I think I liked the idea that I was going to write and publish an interview with Benny Golson so much I couldn’t bring myself to finish it.

However, I just received Keith Oxman’s Dues in Progress on CAPRI Records Ltd., and when I opened the jewel box I found that Benny Golson had written the liner notes. I decided this was the time to finish up. I apologize to Benny who was generous enough to take the time out to speak with me for the delay of this interview, but I think most will empathize with my dilemma.

JAZZREVIEW: You've got eight standards that are in the jazz repertoire today. Is there anything that you are working on or have recently worked on that you think is going to be the next standard piece?

BENNY GOLSON: You never know. All those pieces "I Remember Clifford" and "Whisper Not," I had no idea. No one knows. Otherwise, I would be writing hit after hit.

JAZZREVIEW: That would be the secret formula.

BENNY GOLSON: You better believe it. Nobody knows that. Everybody thinks it, but reality might say something different.

JAZZREVIEW: You're touring a lot in America and in Europe.

BENNY GOLSON: Yes.

JAZZREVIEW: How do the audiences differ in their response to you and your music?

BENNY GOLSON: Well, America is used to it. It all originated in America. It came a little later in Europe, so the intensity is a little deeper, a little more dense, and the appreciation is a bit more dense.

JAZZREVIEW: When you are touring in Europe, how do you put your bands together, or are there guys who are regularly touring with you?

BENNY GOLSON: No, it differs. Sometimes a certain fellow will tour and other times I will pick up fellows
that I'm used to playing with. I have a group that I play with out of Paris. Also a group that I play with out of Italy, and they know the repertoire, so whenever I use them I don't have to worry about too much rehearsing. But there are other times when I'm put together -- and I'm getting away from that, too, I'm getting a little tired of rehearsing -- with people that I don't know. Sometimes it is a nice surprise and sometimes it is a bad surprise. So I'm fading out that, you know. It means rehearsing with these guys you don't know because they don't know the repertoire. You go and rehearse and you play, you go and rehearsand you play. I know the tunes and I have to keepplaying them over and over to rehearse, so I don't think I will be doing much more of that.

JAZZREVIEW: I'm working on a book project, and the book project has to do with the landmarks of American culture, as opposed to American popular culture, and obviously the songs that you have written are part of those landmarks. When you think of American culture, in a very good way, what do you think?

BENNY GOLSON: You qualified that?

JAZZREVIEW: Yes, I had to do that. What has jazz done, where is it going that you see in a very positive way?

BENNY GOLSON: What has it done?

JAZZREVIEW: In terms of -- it's a very difficult question to ask and probably much harder to answer. Jazz is there on the American cultural scene and seems to be rising in importance today amongst the people who are listening.

BENNY GOLSON: But it is not hard to answer at all.

JAZZREVIEW: Okay.


BENNY GOLSON: What it's done [is] it's made people aware of it. And in doing so it's--how can I use the right word --I want to use the right word here now. I have to use the right word, otherwise--it's grown, for want of another word, and it’s grown in its imagination and creativity. I guess you could say that. Because it's brought to the light things that didn't exist before, concerts, styles, rhythms and things like that. So it hasn't been idle and it hasn't just existed and survived, it's flourished.

Now, as far as where it is going, it will only go where we the composers and musicians take it.
It is up to us. This has happened in the past. You know Armstrong brought it a certain way, Dizzy, Charlie Parker brought it yet further, and then the fellows today who will take it yet further. Let's hope that it doesn't stop. Because this happens in every other endeavor; architecture is different, we left art deco quite awhile ago. In 1929 Fords looked good with the hip streaks but now, look at the cars, and air travel, faster, bigger planes; medicine, strides, so why not music.

JAZZREVIEW: Of the people who are composing today, and I guess you know we are in a very fortunate period, look at people like yourself who have been composing for 50 years and who have been teaching in an organized fashion. Who do you see on the scene that you think aregoing to be really important in terms of being a composer?

BENNY GOLSON: A composer?

JAZZREVIEW: And hopefully it's a long, long list.

BENNY GOLSON: No, it's not a long list. Composer? Let me think a minute because the name -- because the reason I am hesitating is because all jazz musicians are composing now. When I started it was just a few. Most were just playing and then everybody started to get into the writing. Now, when Dizzy Gillespie came on the scene, he began to write tunes based on standards that were so new, then he came up with melodies -- I mean, he came up with concepts of his own and then it went on from there. And I got caught up in that too. And now almost every musician who plays an instrument is writing something. I don't know if it is something of note, because I haven't heard everybody, but the ones I have heard, some of them are pretty good. But it is hard to say who is going to be another Duke Ellington. You didn't ask me that, but I am saying that. There arrangers to the fact, but not composing there, that's something else. I don't know. I don't know if I have can name any of that.

JAZZREVIEW: Well, are there any who you personally --

BENNY GOLSON: Well, that's what you are asking me?

JAZZREVIEW: Yes.

BENNY GOLSON: Who is going to be monumental? Uhm. I don't know. As an arranger I might predict John Clayton. Have you ever heard of him?

JAZZREVIEW: John Clayton, yes, I have heard of him.

BENNY GOLSON: West coast.

JAZZREVIEW: And his son Gerald Clayton.

BENNY GOLSON: Piano.

JAZZREVIEW: I see Gerald play pretty frequently out here at Steamers Café in Fullerton.

BENNY GOLSON: I haven't heard him, unfortunately.

JAZZREVIEW: He is a charismatic player and he is an absolutely charming person. So I think that he is doing well, and his father now is -- I never seen his father unfortunately.

BENNY GOLSON: He's a nice man. Brilliant.

JAZZREVIEW: I guess like father like son. Hopefully that's a very wonderful, rewarding thing for them.

BENNY GOLSON: Brilliant, yeah.

JAZZREVIEW: You just finished writing a short book about your life.

BENNY GOLSON: Right.

JAZZREVIEW: 1,000 pages.

BENNY GOLSON: It is going to take a lot -- how dare I.

JAZZREVIEW: I will read the manuscript if you like.

BENNY GOLSON: That's going to be quite a job.

JAZZREVIEW: When did you start writing that?

BENNY GOLSON: About three years ago.

JAZZREVIEW: So you're a fast writer, too.

BENNY GOLSON: Well, yeah. I was on another book before that and I broke away to do this and I have to go back to it. That's a college text book, that's got over a thousand pages, too, but I have to get back to that, otherwise I'm like the professional student that never graduates.

JAZZREVIEW: That can be fun.

BENNY GOLSON: It's a lot of fun. There is a lot of stuff in there. But I'm not quite finished with it yet. My wife says, "When you going to finish it?" I said, "I don't know," and, she said, "Just stop."

JAZZREVIEW: Sometimes you have to do that.

BENNY GOLSON: I know. I am just about finished with it. I have to go back and go through the whole book and put in examples now, and that's going to take awhile.

JAZZREVIEW: With the autobiography --

BENNY GOLSON: That was easy.

JAZZREVIEW: That was easier.

BENNY GOLSON: The other one is teaching, so I have to be really accurate on what I’m saying, too.

JAZZREVIEW: Is there any plan, or do you have any dates in mind when you think the autobiography will be ready?

BENNY GOLSON: My attorney sent me an E-mail today. It's being edited as we speak, so I'm not quite sure. I'm not quite sure. They promised me may be in a year, so we'll see.

JAZZREVIEW: Do you have a working title for it?

BENNY GOLSON: I was going call it "Whisper Not," but I don't think that's going to work. I'm not sure. You
know, to whisper not is not to remain silent, but to tell -- so I don't know.

JAZZREVIEW: When the book is published, I know in certain circles it will be a major event. Will you be doing book tours?

BENNY GOLSON: I don't know about that. That's really down the line. I have never written a book before, so I have to go with along with whatever they suggest. Usually I hear that's what they do.

JAZZREVIEW: You are going to be playing then in October at Yoshi's.

BENNY GOLSON: Yes. I will be out in Oakland for six days. It is going to be nice, too. We got three
trumpet players there, Clifford Brown. That's going to be nice.

JAZZREVIEW: Do you know if tickets are still available to that?

BENNY GOLSON: I don't know any of that. I don't know. I hope so.

JAZZREVIEW: That's a 500-mile drive, but I think I might try and make it.

BENNY GOLSON: Yeah. Another friend of mine is coming up from LA and boy he really wants to hear it.

JAZZREVIEW: You are living in Germany how much of the year?

BENNY GOLSON: Almost half, I guess.

JAZZREVIEW: I was looking on the internet at the town, a little information about it. It seems like it is kind of out of the way and really, really charming.

BENNY GOLSON: No, it is not out of the way. I don't know who said that. It is midway between Zurich and Munich. It is just north of the Austrian border and just south of Stuttgart. Nobody's probably ever heard of it, but I am here and it's an important town. I was telling my wife the other day, I said, "Everybody knows about Friedrichshafen -- I never heard of it until I came here, and this is where they built the Hindenburg, incidentally.

JAZZREVIEW: I saw that. In the Graph Museum.

BENNY GOLSON: In fact, I'm doing a concert in that museum, the 16th of December.

JAZZREVIEW: How is the jazz scene there?

BENNY GOLSON: In Friedrichshafen?

JAZZREVIEW: Yes.

BENNY GOLSON: It is not great, small town, but they have a big band believe it or not. I'm playing with the big band in December. They have a smaller town, Immenstadt, they have a big band, and I have heard them and they're fantastic, incredible.

JAZZREVIEW: That whole area I guess is right around where Johan Sebastian Bach and his family practiced music.

BENNY GOLSON: No, that's up north, up to the northeast. It's a ways up there in Leipzig. That was the Saint Thomas Church where Bach was. In fact, I gave a concert there about three years ago using his organ. Just to absorb in it for me. And we thought it was going to bomb out. The place was packed. You should have heard." I Remember Clifford" on that organ. The newspapers and photographers was there and Bach's body is buried right there in the church floor. It was quite an experience. They didn't want to have a jazz concert, the committee, the church and the Bach Foundation, but the jazz committee persisted and they said "Well, let's try this one," and when that was over, they said "We should have recorded it."

JAZZREVIEW: That would have been remarkable.

BENNY GOLSON: It was something. That was something. I mean that organ and it was at the top above the balcony the organ, believe it or not, and when we played "I remember Clifford," I mean the rafters were shaking. The dust was coming out. It was incredible. The organist was a classically trained organist and he knew jazz, and they brought him in from Amsterdam.

JAZZREVIEW: Wow. I am going to Amsterdam in about two weeks.

BENNY GOLSON: That's nice.


JAZZREVIEW: Getting over to Europe has become something that -- I have a son who lives there so it's become easy and more often. Always try to find good places to hear good music and eat good food.

BENNY GOLSON: Salzburg is a nice place. I’ve past through there. There was a fellow on the train and he came over just to hear the symphony orchestra there. They have a good orchestra there.

JAZZREVIEW: I have kept you on the phone now for 20 minutes, which is what I promised you, that I would not get a whole lot longer than that.

BENNY GOLSON: Okay.

JAZZREVIEW:You have given some great answers to some pretty vague questions. I truly look forward to the books coming out and --

BENNY GOLSON: Actually, I do, too. We'll see.

JAZZREVIEW: Are there any more albums that you've got in the works?

BENNY GOLSON: Concord and I talked about it, but they had no concept and I have no concept right now. And I just don't want to do another bebop album. I want it to mean something, so I have to give it some thought.

JAZZREVIEW: Have you ever considered recording anything in a church with an organ?

BENNY GOLSON: No, I haven't. Only the Bach organ and the guy was from Amsterdam. That worked out great.

JAZZREVIEW: Is there any possibility of you ever doing that?

BENNY GOLSON: Well, they said maybe we'll do it again. They left it open.

JAZZREVIEW: That would be cool. If that does happen will it will be posted on your website?

BENNY GOLSON: Absolutely.

JAZZREVIEW: Thank you, very much, Benny. It was just amazing speaking with you. Take care.

BENNY GOLSON: Take care.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Benny Golson
  • Interview Date: 4/1/2006
  • Subtitle: Conversation with Benny
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