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Benny Golson on Composing and Arranging

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With support from: Lowell Institute
Date and time
Thursday, April 17, 2008

Benny Golson discusses his life as a composer and arranger for such artists as Count Basie, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dizzy Gillespie.

A giant of the hard bop era, saxophonist and composer Benny Golson originally hails from Philadelphia, Penn. He began studying piano at the age of 9, but was soon seduced by the tenor saxophone sounds he heard on jazz records. Golson's career blossomed after graduating from Howard University, when he joined up with "Bull Moose" Jackson's blues band. There, he met pianist and composer Tadd Dameron, who encouraged Golson's budding talent at writing music. Golson spent a brief period with Dameron's band before joining Dizzy Gillespie's globetrotting big band, where his tenor playing and compositional abilities gained even more recognition. Artists like James Moody, Miles Davis and Dizzy himself recorded Golson's "Blue Walk," "Stablemates" and "Whisper Not" respectively. His tunes became an integral part of the group's repertoire some would become enduring jazz standards, such as "I Remember Clifford," "Along Came Betty," and "Killer Joe." At the end of the 1950s, Golson set out with trumpeter Art Farmer and formed the Jazztet, a hard bop quintet. After several years of touring, Golson took time away from the bandstand to concentrate on composing. He moved to Hollywood and began focusing on composing and arranging for commercials, television programs and films. Golson made a serious return to the stage and the studio in the late '70s, freelancing extensively with the likes of Woody Shaw and Pharoah Sanders. In 1982, he rejoined Art Farmer with a new version of the Jazztet. Golson has also devoted much of his time to jazz education though teaching, clinics and even writing textbooks for a new generation of musicians. He continues to record and tour regularly.