Benny Golson, who at 83 years of age has concerts booked well into next year, has had an astounding career.
From his web site (address at the bottom of this review):
Benny Golson is the only living jazz artist to have written 8 standards for jazz repertoire. These jazz standards have found their way into countless recordings internationally over the years and are still being recorded.
He has recorded over 30 albums for many recording companies in the United States and Europe under his own name and innumerable ones with other major artists. A prodigious writer, Golson has written well over 300 compositions.
He has also composed and arranged music for a staggering number of “A-list” artists, including: Count Basie, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton, Davey Jones and The Monkees, Oscar Peterson, The Animals, and Mel Torme, and many, many others.
Additionally, he has written the scores for several TV shows and movies, and commercial music for some of the largest advertising agencies in the US. (You “purists” can look down your nose at that if you like, but I suspect Golson had no problem cashing the checks. The bills have a habit of coming in every month no matter what, and the electric company really doesn’t give a damn where you get the money to pay them, as long as you do pay them.)
Golson’s career was not hurt by being chosen to appear in the Tom Hanks movie, “The Terminal”. Golson played himself, and was the “McGuffin” of the movie. Hank’s character’s sole reason for coming to America was to get Golson’s autograph to complete a collection his father had begun. In a stroke of bad timing, Hanks’ character became a man with no country, trapped in the airline terminal after a revolution at home voided his passport and left him unable to set foot onto American soil. It was an excellent film, and Golson’s appearance in it also led to the release of a very good tie-in album in 2004, “Terminal 1”.
With literally dozens of albums released under his own name, as well as who knows how many appearances as a sideman on other artists work, Benny Golson will surely go down in the history books as one of the most prolific performers and composers jazz has seen
That’s Funky, 2000, Arkadia Jazz
The disk I settled on to write about this week is one of Golson’s later works, the 2000 Arkadia Jazz release, “That’s Funky”, featuring “Benny Golson’s Funky Quintet”.
The personnel for this outing are:
Benny Golson, tenor sax
Nat Adderley, trumpet
Monty Alexander, piano
Ray Drummond, bass
Marvin “Smitty” Smith, drums
The first track is billed as “Mack The Knife (Funky Version”, and the opening notes certainly live up to that. Once you get past the opening, the remainder of the song is pretty straightforward. Some people don’t like funky music, but I don’t see where there is anything to not like about this.
I’ve always loved “Mack The Knife”, and if you do also then this is the album for you. Kurt Weill’s classic, with a much different arrangement, is reprised later on the disc under the alternate name, “Moritat”, which is noted to be a “modern bebop version”. Both versions are eminently listenable.
Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin'” follows the first version of “Mack The Knife”, and funk or not, I think most people will not have to work to enjoy this version of one of jazz’s most popular standards.
“Mississippi Windows”, one of only two Golson originals here, starts off sounding like a bluesy piano piece to showcase Monty Alexander and bassist Ray Drummond, until the horns join about a minute in. It’s a slow burning blues, and after a bit the horns fall silent and Alexander once again takes the lead. Only for a moment though, and then Adderley steps up and shows what it really means to blow the blues.
The last song I’ll mention, although definitely not the last great song on this album, is “Blues March”, the other Golson original on this disc. I noticed that I have drawn a line through the title on my copy of the album, which leads me to believe that, at one time, I didn’t like this song. That’s my loss, because it’s a great piece, showcasing every participant at least as much as it does Golson’s own sax blowing. Even drummer “Smitty” Smith gets a chance to show his chops six minutes in. Drum solos are rare on this disk, and it’s nice that on the final number Smith got a chance to show that Golson picked him for more than just his ability to keep time.
“Blues March” is a rousing bebop piece that some might find “funky” but I think is just plain great jazz. Here is a live version that I found on YouTube. Unfortunately it’s not the version on this disk, but in the unlikely event you’re unfamiliar with the song, this will give you an idea of what to expect.

Come to think of it, the same statement I made about “Blues March” could be made about the entire disc. No matter what pigeon hole you want to put it in, “That’s Funky” is great jazz, start to finish.

To learn more about Benny Golson and his music, visit his web site.

Next time: Reggie Houston

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Copyright © 2011 by Al Evans. All rights reserved. 

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