Tag Archives: Benny Golson

Whisper Not: The Autobiography of Benny Golson

On June 30, 2016, Saxophonist and composer Benny Golson held forth at the Parkway Central Library.

Whisper Not
In conversation with WRTI host Jeff Duperon, the Philly native and NEA Jazz Master shared stories about John Coltrane, missed gigs and the persona behind “Killer Joe.”

A podcast of the event is available here.

Joe Pitts’ Musical Bar

Joe Pitts’ Musical Bar was located in his “hostelry,” the Pitts Hotel. Joe Pitts’ and Watts’ Zanzibar were mentioned in the August 24, 1946 issue of Billboard.

Joe Pitts' Musical Bar

From Jazz.com:

Ray Bryant and [Benny] Golson played regularly in late 1946 with bassist Gordon “Bass” Ashford. They performed one night a week at Joe Pitt’s Musical Bar, and weekends at the Caravan Republican Club, for as long as six months at a stretch.

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John Coltrane and Cultural Heritage Preservation

Jazz legend John Coltrane personified cool.

John Coltrane

Coltrane was into cultural heritage preservation before it was cool. His composition, “Alabama” was in response to the Sept. 15, 1963, bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four young girls. His mournful tribute captured the zeitgeist of the Civil Rights Movement.

Philadelphia shaped and nurtured Coltrane. On June 5, 1945, the Dizzy Gillespie Quartet, featuring Charlie Parker, performed at the Academy of Music. Coltrane and Benny Golson were seated in the next-to-last row. In an interview with the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Project, NEA Jazz Master 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.

Coltrane kicked his heroin habit at his home in Strawberry Mansion, a neighborhood in North Central Philly. The Mural Arts Program, in collaboration with the community, honored a former neighbor. On or about Sept. 15, 2014, Pennrose Company demolished the Tribute to John Coltrane mural.

John Coltrane Mural - Resized

Pennrose has not contributed a dime to replace the tribute to an American icon. The cultural resource was paid for, in part, by taxpayers. After being called out, a company rep lied about “ongoing discussions.”

I know they lied because I was part of the only discussion that has taken place. At the March 10, 2015, meeting with Mural Arts, Lopa Kolluri, Pennrose’s Vice President of Operations, asked for a “menu of options.” Mural Arts sent a proposal and several follow-up emails to which Pennrose has yet to respond.

Pennrose’s arrogance is particularly galling given the company has feasted on public subsidies seasoned with political donations for nearly 40 years. In 1989, a Philadelphia Inquirer story noted the company’s reliance on government subsidies.

Pennrose doesn’t think our stories matter, but we do. It’s our responsibility to remember the ancestors and preserve their legacy for present and future generations. #BlackCultureMatters

We Remember Clifford Brown

Trumpeter Clifford Brown was only 25 when he died in a car crash in 1956. His last performance was at Philadelphia’s famed Music City.

Although his life was cut short, Brown left an indelible impact. There are 334 versions of Philly native and NEA Jazz Master Benny Golson’s composition, “I Remember Clifford.”

Since 1988, his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, has held the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival to honor his memory. Fittingly, it’s the largest free jazz festival on the East Coast. This year’s lineup includes Norman Conners, Leela James and Pieces of a Dream.

clifford-brown-jazz-festival-2015
For the complete schedule, visit www.cliffordbrownjazzfest.org.

Music City

In 1947, drummer Ellis Tollin and his business partner William Welsh opened Music City. What started out as a drum shop became a unique performance space where top jazz musicians, including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, held jam sessions and mentored up-and-coming musicians like Lee Morgan, Bobby Timmons and Archie Shepp.

Music City Collage

Trumpeter Ted Curson recalled:

It was like the scene in Philadelphia for young cats and old cats. They would bring guys in from New York to play and they would have the young guys sit in with them. If you played pretty good you always ended up with some kind of gig.

Jazz legend Clifford Brown gave his last performance at Music City. He left directly from there for a gig in Chicago. He never made it. He was killed in a car accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

In a piece for Hidden City Philadelphia, archivist and Philadelphia music historian Jack McCarthy wrote:

On Tuesday evenings in the mid 1950s, young jazz enthusiasts from all over the city would gather inside the popular music store, Music City, at what is now 1033 Chestnut Street. Some came to jam, while others sat back and listened to intimate performances by major players of the era. It was an especially fertile period in Philly jazz when the city hummed with lively clubs and was home to many of the genre’s important instrumentalists. For aspiring teenage musicians who were too young to get into the clubs, Music City was a place to trade notes with fellow young players and even to play with their musical heroes if they were lucky. Many emerging Philly jazz performers of the 1950s cut their teeth there.

[…]

[Clifford] Brown had established himself as one of the top trumpeters in jazz by the mid1950s. He was living in Philadelphia during this period and was a frequent, featured guest at Music City. As the original story went, Brown performed at the store on the evening of June 26, 1956, accompanied by Ellis Tollin on drums and several other Philly musicians, and left directly from there to drive to a gig in Chicago. With him on the trip were the pianist Richie Powell and his wife, Nancy, who did the driving. On the Pennsylvania Turnpike between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, the car ran off the road and crashed, killing all three.

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Earle Theater

The Earle Theater was a stop on the “Chitlin’ Circuit.” It was the most expensive theater ever built in Philadelphia at the time. The Earle had an ornate interior and exterior and seating for 2700. It was demolished in July 1953.

In an interview with the Smithsonian Oral History Project, Philly native and NEA Jazz Master Benny Golson talked about how he was inspired to master the saxophone after seeing Lionel Hampton and Arnett Cobb at the Earle Theater:

I guess they usually went until 9 or 10 at night, which meant that they had about three or four shows a day. It was an ongoing thing. Week after week they’d have whatever band was popular. Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, anything. Charlie Spivak, Claude Thornhill, Tommy Dorsey. Any band that was popular, they would bring there. It was an ongoing thing. Count Basie, Duke Ellington. They all came there.

The reason I went is because I was in high school – Benjamin Franklin High School. The kids were coming back and says, “Oh man. You got to go to the Earle Theater and hear Lionel Hampton. You got to hear him play Flying Home.” Blah blah blah blah. So one day I didn’t go to school. I went there. That’s when I heard him. That’s when my life changed. That’s when I heard Arnett Cobb. Incidentally, years later – many years later – it must have been 50 years later – I happened to see him in Nice, France. I said, “You’re the reason that I play the saxophone.” He says, “I never knew that. Really?” I said, “Yes.” He had tears in his eyes, because he knew who I was. I said, “I hear you play, and that’s when my life changed.”

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Academy of Music

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.