My date with Benny

Last night, I had a date with the great tenor saxophonist Benny Golson. Now, before any rumors get started, let me be clear. It was not your typical date. There was no one-on-one experience between Golson and myself. But, in my mind, it felt like Golson had an intimate encounter with just about every guest who came to see him perform at the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe Thursday evening. The 83-year old musician wined and dined us with his timeless music, imparted sincerity and humor, and shared personal stories of how he composed classic tunes that have become jazz standards.

He was joined by an awesome Detroit-based rhythm section, which included Gaylynn McKinney on drums, Ian Finkelstein on piano, and Ibrahim Jones on bass. Golson boasted about each musician and jokingly said that had it just been him performing without a band, he would have only held our attention for five minutes.

But, I seriously doubt if anyone would have left his presence. Much like his recorded music, Golson brought an air of smooth, sophisticated profoundness to each song he performed. Especially on the touching  threnody, “I Remember Clifford” which he recorded in honor of late trumpeter Clifford Brown. Golson took his time with each note, elegantly expressing his emotions through song. Golson was playing at the Apollo Theater with Dizzy Gilespie in 1956 the night he heard that Brown had been killed in a car accident. “We did not want to believe the news at first, but when we found out it was true, I knew I had to do something to honor Clifford” Golson told the crowd.

“I Remember Clifford” was one of only two original compositions he performed during the evening, the other being “Killer Joe,” which he opened the show with. As soon as Finkelstein played those two, memorably chords on the piano, the audience automatically knew that Golson was about to break out “Killer Joe,” which has become one of the musician’s most recorded tunes.

Golson could have spent the entire evening enticing us with his many standards, but instead he chose to honor musicians and personal friends of his, including close friend and colleague John Coltrane. Golson reminisced about the days when Coltrane and him were just starting out as musicians and were fired from a local band in Philadelphia. It was a deeply disappointing experience for the musicians at the time, but Golson can now look back on those times and laugh because we all know how everything turned out for them both. The band went through Coltrane’s sizzling tune “Mr.P.C.”  with much intensity of which Jones and McKinney took the spotlight. Jones plucked the strings so fast it seemed like he crammed a thousand notes into one solo and McKinney’s breathtaking skills on the drums soared to new levels.

Golson showed just how humble of a guy he is by letting the rhythm section take the lead and show off their skills on an upbeat version of “What Is This Thing Called Love” and he ended the night with Duke Ellington’s”Take the A Train.”

I must admit, much like a date, I was both nervous and excited about about seeing this legendary musician perform. I fell in love with Golson’s music after hearing his creative compositions on Art Blakey’s hard bop classic album, Moanin.  And from then on, I became a lifelong fan.

I may not have gotten the chance to hear my favorite standards, “Blues March” or “Along Came Betty”  but, I”ll forgive Benny for that. It was still a date that I will never forget.

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