BENNY GOLSON: REUNION
Kenny Dorham (tp) J. J. Johnson (tb) Benny Golson (ts) Wynton Kelly (p)
Paul Chambers (b) Max Roach (drs)
NYC; December 19 & 23, 1957
1. Out of the Past (6:24) (Benny Golson
2. Reunion (7:17) (Gigi Gryce)
3. Venetian Breeze (5:39) (Benny Golson)
1. Hymn to the Orient (4:10) (Gigi Gryce)
2. Namely You (4:45) (Mercer–de Paul)
3. Blues on Down (11:39) (Benny Golson)
"A Benny Golson . . . might turn out to be the successful voice for this generation that Duke was for his."
The source of this quote, jazz critic Ralph Gleason, not a man to throw praise around loosely, was going all-out in favor of Golson's extraordinary writing talents and about the fully deserved "extraordinary attention" jazz musicians pay to his compositions.
This album helps demonstrate the reason for this enthusiasm, by including three fresh examples of the Golson writing touch. But that is only part of the story here. This LP presents what might be called The Complete Golson: not only the remarkable composer - arranger, but also the organizer and leader, and very definitely also the tenor man. Recognition of Benny's writing skills tends to at times to somewhat submerged his playing talents, despite the fact that he considers both of equal importance to him, and despite the further fact that he can blow with the best - with the same warm and moving lyricism that distinguishes his writing, and inventively modern conception and big sound that indicates his firm belief that high on the list of "true masters of the sax" are Don Byas and Coleman Hawkins.
The formidably all-stars lineup on this LP is the result of Benny's insistence, once the music was ready, that he "had to have this personnel to give the sound and the feeling that I wanted." These are of course, all musicians who have travelled in much the same jazz circles for quite some time, with ample opportunity to know and respect each other’s talents. However, such men do not manage to work together as often as one might think. Gigi Gryce had this in mind in titling one of the tunes he wrote for the album, Reunion (named, he said, for the opportunity of “getting with guys like, J. J. and Kenny and Max – old friends I hadn’t worked with for a longtime”), and the general feeling of this LP as a get-together of good friends enjoying each other’s company is certainly strong enough to make that a most suitable overall title.
As for Golson’s own specific idea that this was the necessary personnel for the occasion, that clearly showed that his aims were high and his taste excellent: J. J. JOHNSON, many times over the acknowledged top modern trombonist; the great drummer MAX ROACH; the firm-toned, brilliant trumpet star, KENNY DORHAM; outstanding bassist, PAUL CHAMBERS; and the highly regarded WYNTON KELLY on piano – the latter widely famed as rhythm bulwarks of the Miles Davis Sextet that also featured Johnson. All were most eager to work with Benny, but it took considerable juggling through time, travel and studio schedule before all could be on hand at the same time for recording. But the results, we are sure, justify the pains taken: a fusion of ‘thinking’ and ‘blowing’ that represents modern jazz at its skillful, provocative imaginative best.
BENNY GOLSON was born in Philadelphia in January 1929. He began those almost automatic childhood piano lessons at 9. Then, five years later, much impressed by hearing Arnett Cobb (with Lionel Hampton's band), he persuaded his family to buy him a saxophone. After studying music at Howard College ("a very straight and academic course"), he went on the road with Bull Moose Jackson blues band that also included Tadd Dameron and Philly Joe Jones. In 1953 he was with Dameron's swinging but short-lived group (along with Clifford Brown, Gigi Gryce, Cecil Payne and Philly Joe); the next year he was part of a Jonny Hodges band (with John Coltrane and Richie Powell) - all of which should establish that Benny's formative professional years were spent in some impressive young company. Then came some steady work in Earl Bostic's rhythm-and-blues band; he left Bostic in June of '56 and four days later was asked to join Dizzy's orchestra, where he remained until it disbanded early in '58. (Kelly was among his band-mates during the latter part of his stay with that star-studded outfit). This album was recorded near the end of that period, during the final weeks of 1957.
Followers of modern jazz have had no trouble keeping track of Benny’s whereabouts since then. Until early in 1959 he played and wrote for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (he was, as Art regularly announced, the group’s “musical director”). He then headed his own quintet, usually including Curtis Fuller, until the Fall of ’59, when some of his men were welded with some choices of trumpeter Art Farmer to form “The Jazztet”, which Golson and Farmer co-led until late in ’62.
It was with Dameron that Golson's serious interest in arranging began ("I idolized Tadd as an arranger"). He notes his great appreciation of Tadd's "melodic and harmonic conception" and of the way "he could take two horns and a rhythm section and make them sound so good and so big," and the Dameron influence on Benny's writing style remains apparent. Bostic was also most helpful, giving much moral support and the chance to write "many modern things" for the band, even though they could not record them. His status as a highly regarded writer can be considered as dating from early 1955, when Miles Davis recorded Golson's Stablemates, and Benny really established his importance with the many rich, fresh selections created for the Gillespie book, and then with his important additions to the Messengers and Jazztet repertories. .
Benny's own comments on the material prepared for this album give some insights into his approach to jazz composition -
Out of the Past: "Originally I had planned to do an old show tune, maybe a Rodgers and Hart; but later I decided instead to write something that would be reminiscent of that type of tune, in which I could try to get that kind of sound."
Venetian Breeze: "In 1954 I worked in Miami Beach for two and a half months with a small group from Philadelphia. T get to Miami Beach from Miami proper, we had to traveled over a toll road - the Venetian Causeway - that passed through several very small islands. This scenery brought about the inspiration for this composition and each night, little by little, I put the melody together."
Blues on Down: "I just decided that I ought to have a nice blues-y-blues, so that the fellows and I could stretch out a bit and enjoy ourselves, and to have some contrasts with the more strictly defined numbers."
As for the ballad, Namely You: "I turned on my radio in the middle of this one day, and didn't know if it was a current pop song, an old revival, or a show tune. Eventually I found out it was from 'Li'l Abner' and the melody haunted me to the point where I decided I had to record it."
Benny also turned to one of his favorite writers, the talented Gigi Gryce, who contributed Reunion (named for "getting with guys like J. J., and Kenny, and Max - old friends I hadn't worked with for a long time") and Hymn to the Orient (mainly composed on shipboard while returning from Europe, and inspired by striking up a friendship with "an Oriental, a priest of some sort, who was coming to hits country to study").
JLP-85 stereo (Orpheum)
NOTE: JLP(S9)-85 reissue of RLP12-256
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS. Engineer: JACK HIGGINS (Reeves Sound Studios).
JAZZLAND RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCITONS, INC.
235 West 46th Street, New York City 36, NY