Benny Golson: in the maternity ward /3

François van de Linde and the veteran saxophonist look back on the birth of a library of jazz classics - part 3

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Benny Golson. Photo © Brian Payne

Continued from last month and concluding…

I brought some records today. Please take a look at this one, it’s Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, 1958 – Paris Olympia.

Oh, look at that picture of Art. It says Moanin’ With Hazel on the flip side. Do you know who Hazel was? Hazel Scott, the singer and classically trained pianist. She would come to this club and boy, she was having a great time every night. She was going crazy! This stately dame, we couldn’t believe it, she was waving and shouting! So we called it Moanin’ With Hazel. The band was really good then.

How did the guys in the band get along?

Good. It was like a family. And we were very popular. Bobby had this little funky melody. I said “Why don’t you put a bridge to it?” He said “Oh, it’s nothing, just a something I play. I said “No no…”. So I called a rehearsal in a club in Columbus, Ohio. The bartender, as usual, was the only guy around. I asked Bobby to write a bridge but it was so-so. He said “You write it”. I said “No, Bobby, it’s your tune”. The next bridge took him about a quarter of an hour. That was the one, nice and greasy. I said “Now, what’s the title?” Bobby said “I don’t know”. I said “Well, what are you thinking of when playing it?” He said “Well, about somebody moanin’, perhaps…” So I said “That’s it – Moanin'”.

Art didn’t like Blues March at first … He didn’t think it had a place in jazz … But once we played that thing, the people went crazy

We played Blues March, of course. It was called Blues March For Europe when we were in Paris. It was played as a theme song on radio broadcasts all the time, so it got labeled like that, just like on this record right here. Art didn’t like Blues March at first. Art said “I don’t want to record that, they only play marches in New Orleans when they’re going to a funeral!” I had to beg him. He didn’t think it had a place in jazz. And when he said yes, he only said so because he was convinced that it wouldn’t work. But once we played that thing, the people went crazy. He couldn’t believe it. Nobody played it exactly like Art Blakey. He was incredible and made that tune famous.

Moanin’ and Blues March are on the epic Moanin’ LP. Along Came Betty is included too, another one of your instant standards. So who is Betty?

You wanna know who Betty is? I was playing with Bull Moose Jackson in Dayton, Ohio. I saw this young lady in the audience. And you know when you’re playing, sometimes you’re winking your eye, doing crazy stuff, drawing attention… And we became good friends. Betty Pritchard was her name. We got so close, I almost married her. But eventually we broke up and she disappeared. I met Bobby. Now Bobby and I are married for 60 years. I tell my audiences: “Maybe I should change the title to Along Came Bobby!”

Here’s a record of Arnett Cobb…

Oh, this guy… I was a piano student as a kid. A friend told me Lionel Hampton was in town and they had this saxophone player… Would I go with him? I was 14 years old, skipped school and went to the theatre. I heard Arnett Cobb play the solo of Flying Home and that night the piano began to fade from my mind. It was sax from that moment on! I told Cobb that I played saxophone because of him once in France. He almost cried, he said “I really I didn’t know that!”

While your style is thoroughly modern, it’s also part of a lineage. Do you happen to like Paul Gonzalves? You have that similar buzzing sound and smooth phrasing.

I like Paul Gonzalves very much but he wasn’t my hero. Lucky Thompson and Don Byas are similar players with that smooth approach. I played like that, that’s right.

I guess what I’m saying is you never really became a “hard tenor”.  Your style has an edge, but it’s not like Griffin or Rollins. There’s tenderness and elegance to it, which applies to your arrangements as well.

I guess I like a bit of sophistication. But like I said, Blakey changed my way of playing. A drummer! Isn’t that something?

Everything changes. So why not jazz music? Perhaps there won’t be any breakthroughs like we had in the past, but it will keep changing

How do you feel when your tunes are covered? Do you have favorites?

That depends on who’s playing them. Most of the time, I love it. It is already a long time ago, but Geoffrey Keezer did a version of Whisper Not. This guy can play one song with his left hand and another with his right hand, simultaneously. He is the only one that comes close to Art Tatum. And he can draw from the songbook – Keezer knows them all and then some. Well, I never heard a recording of Whisper Not like that! It was out there in space! Keezer asked me what I thought about it. I said “I love it”. He said “I thought you would hate it”. No, no. I had never heard anything like it but I loved it.

It must feel great that your tunes are still performed and are available for everyone to hear.

Yes, that was one of my goals, to write for posterity! Now, I have no influence on how the performances turn out, except the performances from myself of course. Jazz changes. And it should continue to move on. Nothing stays the same, people, nature, language, cars, the way people dress… Everything changes. So why not jazz music? Perhaps there won’t be any breakthroughs like we had in the past, but it will keep changing. It’s foolish to think it won’t.

See Benny Golson: in the maternity ward /1
See Benny Golson: in the maternity ward /2