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story image 1struggle and TRIUMPH

Benny Golson brings wealth of insight and influence to NT


Lindsay Wilps
Staff Writer


Thursday  Nov. 18, 2004

Benny Golson refuses to talk about his childhood. According to him, it's a long, boring and exhausted story that no one wants to hear anymore. Benny Golson refuses to talk about musicians and drug abuse. He gets tired of everyone always wanting to talk about jazz musicians and their personal problems. Benny Golson doesn't want to talk about anything, besides the music of course.

Golson, hailing from Philadelphia, has evolved into one of the most revered and honored musicians and composers to contribute to the American jazz movement during a great pivotal era of jazz, the 1950s and '60s. He began on the tenor saxophone in his early teens after becoming fascinated with the instrument, and eventually became friends with alto player John Coltrane. The two worked together, trying to understand the old and, at the time, the new, fresh bebop styles in jazz.

"We were trying to learn the traditional things out of the Louis Armstrong school, and Count Basie and Louis Jordan, this is where we were coming from, trying to get a foothold on that. And lo and behold in midstream, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker come along with this new music, so we were in a situation. Not fully grasping the old things and trying to get a hold of the new things, and that took some doing; it took some time," Golson said.

Continuing to Howard University where he was forced to study clarinet, Golson's rebellious attitudes and creativity began to flourish.

"They viewed the saxophone as a bastard instrument," Golson said. "I couldn't do what I really loved, I had to do it on the side, play my gigs at night, slip over the back wall. It was a little disconcerting. So I started to challenge what they were teaching, ... and now I chuckle, because 50 years later they brought me back and honored me and established a scholarship in my name. Incredible, for a rebel."

After working with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Earl Bostic and many others, Golson started writing his own works with the help of Tadd Dameron. "He helped to give me legs," Golson said. He chuckled at the thought of some of his first compositions. "[They were] things that would put me out of business."

But now, many of his works, like "Killer Joe," "I Remember Clifford" and "Whisper Not" have become staples in jazz repertoire. Composing was part of Golson's ideology -- in order to maintain creativity, you constantly move forward.

"It's like the horizon that is always ahead. We're here today, and we aspire to get there tomorrow, and if we can just get there, everything will be fine, I'll be satisfied," he said. "But when you get there you want to go yet to other places, and that's the nature of creativity. Show me a person who is satisfied with himself and he comes to a standstill creatively. Creative people are restless people."

During his stint as a writer in Hollywood for television and film scores, Golson put down the instrument that originally drew him into his profession. "I was dissatisfied with what I was doing," Golson said. "When you're dissatisfied with someone else you walk away, or take off the CD; you can turn the radio off. When it's you, you've got a problem. I opted to bow out. Then the bug bit me a few years later and I returned. And when I returned my playing was different, which means that the thinking process was operational, even when I didn't have my horn in my hand."

Continuing in his creative quest this Tuesday, Golson and the One O' Clock Lab Band will collaborate and perform pieces from Golson's classic repertoire at the Murchison Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased by calling (940) 369-7802 or by logging onto www.music.unt.edu/tickets.

"I feel it's a privilege to be coming here for the first time," Golson said. "I know about the skills that prevail and the talent and tutelage. It's legendary. I think every musician knows about your bands here. ... I wish that school existed when I was learning. It wouldn't have taken me so long to get ahead. I guess all of us wished that that kind of thing existed."