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Benny Golson Biography

One of a few jazzmen whose accomplishments as a composer are on a par with those as a player, Benny Golson began his musical training with arduous home schooling.  Born in Philadelphia in 1929, Golson's first instrument was the piano. At 14, he picked up the saxophone after being captivated by the sounds of Arnett Cobb and the Lionel Hampton Band.  In his teenage years, Benny served his jazz apprenticeship sitting in on Philadelphia’s Columbus Avenue jam sessions and playing with fellow up-and-comers such as John Coltrane. In 1947, he enrolled at Howard University and shortly following his graduation joined “Bull Moose” Jackson’s Rhythm & Blues band, subsequently meeting the man whom he considered the greatest influence on his creative style - Tadd Dameron.

Golson got his first big break as a composer in 1955 when James Moody recorded, “Blue Walk,” and later that same year when Miles Davis recorded the Golson’s “Stablemates.” In addition to composing, Golson was also making a name for himself as a sax virtuoso.  In 1956, he joined the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band and the orchestra recorded Golson’s, “Whisper Not," during a Bandstand USA radio broadcast from New York’s Birdland Club.
In 1957, Golson wrote one of his most enduring and oft recorded tunes, “I Remember Clifford,” after the tragic death of the trumpet player Clifford Brown. The year also marked Golson’s first exposure as a bandleader, recording the album, New York Scene, with Art Farmer, Jimmy Cleveland, Gigi Gryce, Sahib Shihab, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Charlie Persip. 

After Gillespie’s Orchestra broke up in 1958, Benny Golson joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, forming the edition of the Messengers, with Golson as musical director, that is regarded by Blakey himself as the pinnacle of the group’s history. Golson penned four of the six compositions on the Jazz Messengers’ release: Moanin’,  a recording widely considered the best album of the Messengers, recorded for Blue Note in 1958.

At the ripe old age of 29, Benny Golson found that he was getting considerably more recognition for his composing than for his playing. In an effort to find balance, Golson went into the studio to record The Other Side Of Benny Golson, successfully illustrating his instrumental aptitude. Ultimately, Benny understood that he could achieve greater success writing music than playing it. After forming the stylish, yet relatively short-lived Jazztet, Golson focused his efforts, devoting considerably more time to the study of arrangement and composition.

In 1965, Benny put away his horn and moved to Hollywood where he wrote the recognizable scores for a multitude of movies and television shows, including M*A*S*H, Mission Impossible, The Partridge Family, and The Cosby Show, as well as dozens of commercials. Golson’s reputation amongst musicians flourished equally, as he composed arrangements for popular artists such as Lou Rawls, Connie Francis, Ella Fitzgerald, Eric Burdon, Nancy Wilson, Sammy Davis Jr. and Diana Ross.

In 1974, he resumed his playing career in earnest, freelancing extensively and recording with Curtis Fuller, Freddie Hubbard, & Pharaoh Sanders, among others.  In 1983, with a reconstituted Jazztet, Golson hit the road, touring music festivals around the world.  Since 1995, he has also been a member and the musical director of the all-star saxophone repertory band, Roots. Meanwhile, Benny has continued to write music, undertaking a number of ambitious projects, including a 1993 bass concerto performed by Rufus Reid at Lincoln Center. A year later he was awarded a Guggenheim Scholarship, enabling him to start work on his second symphony. 

With a long and storied career already behind him, Benny Golson has settled into the role of elder statesman. In 1989, he started a two-year residency at William Paterson College and began work on a textbook for aspiring arranger. In 1995, Golson was bestowed the Jazz Masters award by the National Endowment of the Arts.

All this recognition seems to have fueled his ardor to make music. In 1996, Golson began a relationship with New York’s Arkadia Jazz. The first Golson album released under Arkadia was Up Jumped Benny, a live recording done in Switzerland. He followed it up with Tenor Legacy, an extraordinary album that was honored with a Grammy nomination in 1999 for his performance on the standard “Body and Soul.”  In 2000, That’s Funky was released, and in 2001, Arkadia followed with One Day, Forever, which aside from highlighting Benny’s talents as a composer, player, and arranger, included performances by Shirley Horn, Ron Carter, Art Farmer, Curtis Fuller, and Lara Downes.

Benny Golson has written hundreds of compositions, toured the planet and collaborated with the greatest sounds of the music pantheon, but when reflecting on his many accomplishments, a humble Golson notes what is perhaps the secret to both the duration and brilliance of his career:

“I'm afraid to look back and get too involved in something I did before. You don't drive a car by looking through the rear window."
Curtis Fuller Biography
A Detroit native, Curtis Fuller has been one of the most lasting jazz personalities of the last half-century.  Performing with a who’s who of jazz superstars, Fuller’s has shared the stage with the likes of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley.

Art Farmer Biography
Art Farmer (b. 1928) spent his early years in jazz establishing himself as a trumpet extraordinaire before switching to the Flugelhorn. A virtuoso of both, Farmer’s career took an uncharted turn when David Monet developed the Flumpet, a strangely named instrument for Farmer, who combined the instruments unique sound with his own to cement his legacy in jazz history.
Jon Hendricks Biography 
Jon Hendricks was singing with Art Tatum by 14, and has also worked alongside legends such as Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie and Thelonious Monk. Jon has won a handful of Grammy, but has also earned prestige as a director, composer, playwright and journalist. A legend by all accounts, Time Magazine called him the “James Joyce of Jive.”
Geoffrey Keezer Biography
The son of two music teachers, pianist Geoff Keezer dropped out of college after just 1 year to join the Jazz Messengers. Having appeared on countless recordings as both a sideman and leader, Keezer’s career has put him in the highest echelon of today’s musicians.
Dwayne Burno Biography
Dwayne Burno (b. 1970) sat in his mother’s lap as a child in Philadelphia and witnessed her lead the church choir first hand. Since then, music has been the dominant force in a career that has included stints as Betty Carter’s Bassist and tours with everyone from Wynton Marsalis to Digable Planets.
Joe Farnsworth Biography
After being exposed to Jazz by his trumpeter father Roger Farnsworth, Joe has earned accolades and respect for his innate feel for timing and intricate cymbal playing from jazz veterans and aficionado’s alike.