The Denver Post

bret saunders: jazz

Saxman's role as himself in "Terminal" opened doors
By Bret Saunders

Sunday, January 16, 2005 -

Saxophonist Benny Golson didn't believe that Steven Spielberg really wanted him to appear in a Tom Hanks film he was directing."

I was in Europe. My office called and said that he (Spielberg) wanted to know if I was interested," said Golson, who plays Mount Vernon Country Club on Thursday. "I initially told them (his office) no."

This jazz journeyman turned down Hollywood's best-known director? Well, not exactly.

"I'd been called by other directors in the past, and when I showed up, there were 10 other guys competing for the same role," he said. "I was never chosen. But when I talked to him (Spielberg), he said he wanted me to portray myself."

It turns out that a college-age Spielberg saw him perform and remained a fan over the course of his career. Years later, Spielberg contacted Golson to give him a small but pivotal role in last years' "The Terminal."

"I don't think I'll get the Academy Award," the soft- spoken Golson said. But his appearance has led to a new wave of recognition.

"Now I'm turning down work," said Golson, 75, who has remained consistently busy for at least the past 50 years. An alumnus of Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey's bands, with a distinctive, breathy tone and an inexhaustible supply of melodic inspiration, Golson continues his remarkable life as an improvising artist and composer.

He grew up in Philadelphia as a neighbor to saxophonist John Coltrane. The two even played in the same group together, "Jimmy Johnson and the Ambassadors." Golson went on to a successful career in Hollywood, composing scores for television series like "M*A*S*H" and "The Partridge Family."

Golson also experienced a successful run as a jingle writer for ad campaigns, including ones for Chevrolet, Pepsi-Cola and Ore-Ida Frozen Potatoes, likely making him one of the most listened-to composers of the '60s and '70s. But much of his finest recorded jazz work has long been unavailable.

Fortunately, the mail order label Mosaic Records recently issued the 7-CD "Complete Argo/Mercury Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet Sessions" box. It includes the saxophonists' timeless dates that were committed to tape from 1960-62 as co-leader of The Jazztet with the late trumpeter Farmer, whose fluid tone made for an ideal sonic union with Golson's easygoing approach.

Golson wasn't involved with the assembly of the box, though. "I haven't listened to all of it yet," he said. "But it's very nostalgic to hear it."

There's new Benny Golson music, as well. "Terminal 1" (Concord) features catchy compositions like "Caribbean Drifting." Songs from Golson's pen that have become jazz standards, "Killer Joe" and "Blues March," are revisited, and judging by Golson's vigorous solos, he still holds great enthusiasm for his own durable songbook.

Golson has been playing live more (he'll be back in Colorado this April for the UNC-Greeley Jazz Festival) and composing for television and film less, but he still offers some insight on how, from his perspective, to recognize a superior work of filmmaking.

"When you see a picture and you notice a lot of music in it, the film's not too good. A great picture doesn't need a lot of music. Remember that."

Benny Golson will perform Jan. 20 at 8 p.m. at Mount Vernon Country Club, 24933 Clubhouse Circle in Golden. A buffet dinner will be available at 6 p.m. Dinner and concert tickets are $39.95, concert only tickets are $15. Call 303-526-0616.

Set list

Hear Dave Corbus at Sambuca Jazz Café Saturday ... the local trio Triangle, with Art Lande, Erik Deutsch and Doug Anderson plays a free show at Boulder's Redfish on Wednesday ... Bob Dorough makes a rare Colorado appearance at Dazzle on Thursday ... Bobby McFerrin celebrates the human voice at DU's Gates Concert Hall Jan. 25 and CU's Macky Auditorium Jan. 27 ... Altitude Sports and Entertainment Network will film a live performance by Denver's Dotsero at Jazz@Jack's Jan. 29 ... Swinging Jazz Concerts return to the Donald R. Seawell Grand Ballroom Jan. 28-29, with cornetist Dan Barrett, drummer Jake Hanna and more ... Liquid Soul plays jumping funky jazz at the Fox Theatre Feb. 1.

Bret Saunders' column on jazz appears every other Sunday in A&E. Saunders is host of the "KBCO Morning Show," 5:30-10 a.m. weekdays at 97.3-FM.