Monday, November 28, 2016

Whisper Not: The Autobiography of Benny Golson

Whisper Not: The Autobiography of Benny Golson
Benny Golson and Jim Merod
Philadelphia:Temple University Press:
2016; 336+xvi pp.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing the marvelous saxophonist and composer Benny Golson, has been treated to not simply marvelous music but also his storytelling in introducing the tunes performed, whether recollections about growing up with John Coltrane, or the origins of some of his classic compositions such as "Along Came Betty," "I Remember Clifford," "Stablemates," and so many more. Now, Benny has put some of these stories and more in this new volume that was written with Jim Merod.

This is not a usual autobiography where the person provides a chronicle of his life. Instead the book is more of a systematic organization of vignettes of the manner he would tell in performance, except perhaps he gets into more depth about some and a number of them are matters that would not normally come up unless he was being interviewed.

The book is organized into eight parts and it would give an overview of the contents to describe each of the parts and some of the contents of that part. After Merod's preface, which provides an overview of Golson's life and contribution, while his own introduction is an indication of the positive, as opposed to negative, messages he hopes to provide in detailing his story.

Part 1 is entitled John Coltrane and in its three chapters discusses his interactions with Coltrane including John and him meeting Bird and Diz and then being the musical dynamo. Part II is entitled "The 'Hood' and Youthful Reckonings" and includes some of his early musical adventures as well as his Uncle Robert and Benny's first visit to Minton's, early musical experiences and then hard times. Part 111, entitled "Great P People," takes us to his experiences with the likes of Bull Moose Jackson and Earl Bostic, Art Blakey, Tadd Dameron, Clifford Brown and Fats Navarro, Jimmy and Percy Heath, Betty Carter, Art Farmer, and others. as well as discussing going to Howard University and further matters. Part IV, "Hollywood," was a revelation for me as I was unaware he had left the jazz world to spend several years scoring for film and TV. Included are his recollections of what was musically involved along with his three years with the show, "M*A*S*H."

Part V, "Amazing Friendships," has his recollections of Quincy Jones, Harry 'Sweets' Edison, Dizzy Gillespie, Philly Joe Jones (who he went back with to his youth), Thelonious Monk, Max Roach, Dinah Washington and Curtis Fuller as well as tells the story of The Jazztet that he and Art Farmer co-led. Part VI, "Music and Writing," includes his discussion of how his approach to writing music developed along with discussions of "Stablemates," his first recorded song, "Along Came Betty," and "I Remember Clifford." He was (and still is) not happy with changes Miles Davis made in his composition in the first recording of "Stablemates" (which included John Coltrane in Davis' Band). Elsewhere he recalls very sad circumstances of learning of Clifford Brown's passing that led to one of his most famous compositions. The last chapter in this part, "The Ballad and 'Weight,'" is one of the most thought provoking, as Golson considers playing of ballads such a great factor in the music's art and the import of the ballad as almost a genre in itself while in playing ballads, emphasis is on the weight given to each specific note played.

Part VII, "Icons," has his recollections of persons he had met that stand apart from simply great musicians. Included is his recollections of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, and performing in the film, "The Terminal." There are also recollections of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, Coleman Hawkins, Art Blakey, Kenny Dorham, Lee Morgan, Peggy Lee, Diana Ross, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Milt Jackson, Charles Mingus, Benny Goodman, Gigi Gryce, Larry Young, Mickey Rooney, Redd Foxx, Jersey Joe Walcott, and Muhammad Ali amongst those disccussed. Part VIII, "Verses And A Coda," includes how he resumed his musical performing career after his Hollywood hiatus, the centrality of the blues and the Coda which is a brief discussion of his becoming a Jehovah Witness.

The text is clean and readily accessible as a Golson melody and a photo album includes a number of memorable images. Golson is such a positive person, and that is conveyed throughout his graceful telling of his story. This is an important addition to the body of jazz biographies and autobiographies.

I purchased this. Here is Benny talking about John Coltrane.

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