Benny Golson playing Benny Golson music with The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra was one of those rare events at The Queen’s Hall that I did not want to miss (they are doing two more shows at Aberdeen and Glasgow) as it is not often that one of the great surviving pioneers of Post War Jazz comes to town.
I have to admit here that, although I know of Benny Golson and some of his work, I do not have a huge knowledge of his massive contribution to music and jazz (many in the audience will know far more than me), so tonight was also a chance for me to learn directly from the man himself. Yes, I could look up Google and put some facts into this review to make it look clever, but anyone reading this review who really knows things would spot that in seconds.
My evening actually started with a short twenty minute talk that Tommy Smith was hosting with Benny Golson, and the first thing that struck me when Benny walked on stage was “How is this man 86?” because he certainly did not look it, and when he started to talk just a little about his early days his gentle voice and oratory just brought to me what had previously been pretty dull text in jazz books to life. These were not big “I did this”, or “I knew this person” stories (Benny Golson is just not that sort of man), but gentle little reminiscences like being a youth along with John Coltrane and them both jamming together in his mother’s living room. As the actual concert went on (half an hour or so later), Benny continued to talk (his wife was not here to keep him quiet he kept telling us) and give us wonderful insights into just how some of the music he was playing came into being. As I said earlier, I also came to this concert to learn, and I think I found out more from Benny Golson tonight than I would from reading whole chapters (even books) about Jazz. Benny is not just a wonderful musician, he is a great user of language and has that rare ability of painting a scene with words.
Anyhow, to the music. This was obviously from the start a very special night for the members of the SNJO and everyone was going to be on that extra sharp form tonight. This was not just a night of playing some music that has become jazz standards over the years, but this was playing on the same stage with the man who wrote them...no one was going to make the slightest slip here in front of Benny Golson.
This was quite a long show (starting at 7.30 and ending about 10.20) and just an evening of world class music. Benny Golson told some wonderful stories of how tunes came into being as he introduced “Along Came Betty”, “Blues March”, “Killer Joe”, Stablemates” and Strawboss” as well as playing other classics. What was so obvious throughout the night was that this gentle giant of jazz music was just smiling and enjoying himself on stage still loving the music that he was hearing and that he was playing. Also, as some of these gently told introductions unfolded and names were mentioned like Miles Davis, Art Blakey, The Jazz Messengers and many more, you started to get a picture of a golden post-war jazz world that text in books just does not capture and also a little idea of just how central to that world this gentle man onstage was and how important he still is to not only contemporary jazz, but music as a whole.
Probably the most powerful performance of the evening though was when Benny introduced why he wrote “I Remember Clifford”. As we were told, people have told Benny that over 500 people have now recorded this music, but to hear Benny Golson play this live is something completely different. Yes, this is a beautiful piece of music (yes Benny, Dizzy was right when he told you that), but when anyone else plays it, it is just that...beautiful music. When however, Benny Golson is on stage and tells you the story of how he wrote this song as a tribute to his jazz trumpeter friend Clifford Brown who died at 25 years old in a car accident, it takes on a completely different life and an element of beautiful sadness. Watching Benny Golson play this music on stage it is just obvious that this is still to him a tribute to the memory of a much loved friend whose passing still causes him sorrow. This music is a perfect tribute from one musician to another that will ensure that as long as that music is played, Clifford Brown will never be forgotten. I am just very pleased to have made this show to see and hear music like this brought to life as only Benny Golson can.
This was just one of those special musical nights for not only the audience but I suspect everyone in the SNJO itself. To adapt that special musical title everyone here tonight can say “I remember Benny Golson”.
On a show like this, it is easy to forget too just what a special acoustic place The Queen’s Hall is. There are not many venues out there that have those acoustic qualities and that is why so many musicians just love playing this venue. Also often forgotten in a show like this are the technical staff of the venue. I do not have the name of the person who was dealing with the sound tonight, but he did a great job too.