Golson Reveals Tender Touch in Paris Concert


Saxophonist Benny Golson dazzled fans in Paris at a recent concert.

(Photo: Oliver Rossberg)

In early April, 88-year-old Benny Golson played two nights at the Duc des Lombards in Paris. It’s a significant event when you get to hear such a defining voice of modern jazz in an intimate setting, with some lucky fans seated merely feet from the bell of his tenor saxophone.

Like Jimmy Heath, who is three years older, Golson is part of the crew of Philadelphians who played a prominent role in shaping modern jazz as composers and arrangers. Departing from Broadway repertoire, they wrote their own songs and imagined new orchestral contexts to showcase their individual prowess.

Having honed his skills in the ranks of major orchestras led by the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton, Golson fully came to the fore as a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. It was then, in 1958, that his compositions—such as “Along Came Betty,” “Blues March” and “Are You Real?”—gained acclaim. They rejuvenated the songbook available for jazz musicians by offering actual jazz material and not showtunes.

Golson then co-led his own outfit, The Jazztet, with trumpeter Art Farmer from 1959 to 1962. He experienced a resurgence starting in the 1980s.

Hearing such a prominent figure in the flesh is always a moment to treasure. Golson has developed an intriguing tenor sound, making him a stylist of the ilk of Heath, Hank Mobley, Charlie Rouse, George Coleman and Booker Ervin. He has kept that sound eminently recognizable over the years.

With Antonio Faraò on piano, Gilles Naturel on bass and Doug Sides on drums, Golson treated his Duc des Lombards audience with a basketful of lovely tunes, including “Horizon Ahead,” “Whisper Not,” “Stablemates” and “I Remember Clifford.” There is something moving when you get to hear these historical gems by the man who penned them, as if you could actually travel in time and feel the presence of Clifford Brown, Miles Davis and all the artists who were around and helped inspire them.

An added pleasure of the performance was the presence of Sides, a veteran drummer who has played with Joe Henderson, Sonny Stitt, Blue Mitchell, Bobby Hutcherson, Hank Jones, Phil Woods and Johnny Griffin. Always a swinging player, he is both forceful and melodic, inventive and unobtrusive. A great soloist himself with showmanship and a knack for construction, he is a consummate stylist who brings musical zest to any situation.

Sides proved to be a perfect match for Golson’s consistently lyrical playing. Naturel (on bass) is a thoughtful, deep-toned accompanist who brought the no-nonsense support of a veteran player. Faraò shone with a sprightly touch and melodic approach, letting loose on “What Is This Thing Called Love?”

The warm and committed playing of the ensemble augmented the leader’s tender touch, with Sides pushing hard. It brought to the fore Golson’s congenial approach. It also enabled the audience to share in the uncanny experience of bringing back the masters of the past, evoked in Golson’s many vivid anecdotes, which were much appreciated by visitors, such as drummer John Betsch and pianist Kirk Lightsey, whose laughter accented the music with perfect timing in the friendly spirit of great jazz. DB

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