Benny Golson, a living jazz legend
An all-round genius
Born in Philadelphia in 1929, Benny Golson has been immersed in jazz since childhood. Very young, he befriended Jimmy Heath, Red Rodney, Philly Joe Jones, John Coltrane…
It was Arnett Cobb, first tenor saxophone in Lionel Hampton's orchestra, who made him want to become a professional musician. After his studies at the prestigious Howard University, Benny Golson took his first steps in the orchestra of Bull Moose Jackson in 1951. It was there that he met pianist Tadd Dameron, a true mentor who hired him in 1953.
“I learned a lot about composition from Tadd Dameron. I was a fan of him, and I played every night with this man whom I admired. So the young fool that I was harassed Tadd with a million questions. He would answer them kindly. He really helped me a lot when I was just starting out.”
He then joined the bands of Lionel Hampton, Johnny Hodges, Earl Bostic, Dizzy Gillespie while developing his talents as a composer. His career took a real turning point in 1958 when he became one of the pillars of the Jazz Messengers, the Art Blakey group. From 1959 to 1962, he also co-directed the Jazztet with trumpeter Art Farmer.
We owe Benny many jazz standards: Whisper Not (1956), I remember Clifford (1957), Blue March (1958), Along Came Betty (1958), Killer Joe (1960)…
A true all-rounder, always on the lookout for new challenges and projects, he also composes for television and cinema, invests in teaching… and even plays his own role in Steven Spielberg's movie The Terminal. The main character of the film continues the collection of autographs of his father, a jazz enthusiast whose goal was to obtain the signatures of all the musicians present on the famous photograph “A Great Day in Harlem”. All he has to do now is get Benny's…
“A Great Day in Harlem” by Art Kane (Benny Golson, top left)
At the time the picture was taken, in 1958, Benny Golson was playing with Dizzy Gillespie and had not yet achieved star status. “When I arrived, there were all of my heroes’ and then I said to myself: 'What am I doing here?’ Nobody knew who the heck Benny Golson was!”. Benny Golson is today one of the last two survivors of this picture, along with Sonny Rollins. One of the last representatives of this golden age of jazz…
A relationship of Trust and Friendship
Jérôme Selmer, President of the Henri SELMER Paris house, is very close to Benny Golson. He shows great admiration for the artist's career and overflowing enthusiasm: “Even at his age, he still wants to. He wants to build, to do things… He is always very available, very attentive, always ready to give an opinion on a new instrument! ».
Benny Golson and Christophe Grèzes at Henri SELMER Paris showroom
What marks all those who know him at Henri SELMER Paris is also his kindness, his humility, his humanity. “Benny is an exceptional person, kind and generous, we have a very emotional bond” says Christophe Grèzes, mouthpiece product manager.
“From the first meeting I was captivated by the kindness and the listening of this musician” confides Jérôme Selmer. “At first he didn't know me. He was trying an instrument, I sat down next to him and began to give him my opinion, to share. He saw that I had an ear, so we talked, it created a bond. Since then, when he comes to try an instrument, he always wants us to be with him to exchange!”
Playing only on Henri SELMER Paris saxophones, Benny Golson has a very strong attachment to our House and a recognition that seems infinite:
“There does not exist any words that truly and completely describe my psychological happiness when I perform, thanks to SELMER, my eternal 'Shadow Warrior'. My musical life is dedicated to SELMER. They have made my life a sensational delight.”
When asked what SELMER means to him, he evokes a relationship of trust above all.
“I discovered SELMER when they didn't know me yet. I first met Patrick Selmer, then later Jérôme. This relationship changed my life radically. I honestly felt I was part of a family who always had time to hear my problems and answer my questions. This relationship was uncommon and priceless. There I was, holding the best saxophone in the world in my hands… I was in a new world. SELMER helped me to grow, even after I became a professional.”
After receiving the NEA Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1995, Benny Golson was inducted into the International Academy of Jazz Hall of Fame in 2009 and the DownBeat Hall of Fame in 2018. Now 91 years old, Benny Golson is the man who, along with a handful of other giants, has made jazz history and paved the way for thousands of musicians around the world.
Thank you Benny. Thank you for your confidence, your humour, your communicative enthusiasm, and above all for your immense contribution to the history of music.