Opened in 1857, the Academy of Music is the country’s oldest concert hall and opera house. The “Grand Old Lady of Broad Street” has welcomed jazz, blues and R&B legends, including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Shirley Horn, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and James Brown.
On June 5, 1945, the Dizzy Gillespie Quartet, featuring Charlie Parker, was in the house. Seated in the next-to-last row were Benny Golson and John Coltrane. In an interview with the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Project, NEA Jazz Master Benny Golson recalled:
When we heard – John and I, when we first heard Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie] – I told you he was sounding like Johnny Hodges – our lives changed that night. We had never heard any music like that. Never. We were screaming like these Beatles groupies, when they used to hear the Beatles. They played this Latin tune. We never heard any Latin tune like that in our lives. The Latin tunes that we played were like Lady of Spain, the stock arrangements, My Shawl. But this Latin thing, we had never heard it. Then they played an interlude, and they made a break, and Charlie Parker made a pickup by himself. Usually it was two bars, but he did it four bars, double-time. We were going crazy. We almost – of course we were up there with the cheap seats – we almost fell over the balcony. It was A Night in Tunisia. We never heard that before. Oh my goodness.
Golson expounded on that fateful night in his autobiography, Whisper Not: The Autobiography of Benny Golson:
The concert was staged at the Academy of Music, home of the Philadelphia Orchestra. We took our places, greatly excited, in the cheap seats in the uppermost level. Diz’s band kicked off with the strangest Latin-sounding tune we had ever heard. John thought it sounded “like snake charmer’s music”: Dizzy’s “A Night in Tunisia” was weirder than anything we had heard before, but intriguing. The band moved through the melody, dove into an interlude, then opened into a bravura set of riffs, or glissandi, a sustained high-octane break by the alto player, Charlie Parker. To us, the sound was way out there. Parker was dressed in a double-breasted suit with all of the buttons closed. He looked like an adult stuffed into his grade school graduation suit. …
We both nearly fell over the balcony rail, all the cells and nerves in our bodies wild with abandon. Their music was crazy and we went into an exuberant delirium, doubtless a form of higher awareness and pure joy. John tried to crawl up my gyrating body while I was grabbing onto him with barely contained amazement. We were both screaming like schoolgirls. We had heard strong performances in our young lives, but nothing like this. This was beyond “good.” It was completely new, innovative, and profound. We were drunk with happiness and bewilderment. I felt like crying. We didn’t know then, but our musical world changed that night.
Published by Temple University Press, Golson’s autobiography is available for purchase here.
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