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Forthcoming film celebrates Benny Golson's contributions to jazz

Benny Golson speaks at the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Awards Ceremony and Concert held in New York, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011.
FR170266 AP
Benny Golson speaks at the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Awards Ceremony and Concert held in New York, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011.

NEA Jazz Master Benny Golsonis a born storyteller, with music or with words. When asked to name a favorite composition of his own, he inevitably answers, "I haven't written it yet."

That's some bold optimism from a 94 year-old musician who's given jazz such beloved standards as "Killer Joe," "Along Came Betty," "Blues March," and "I Remember Clifford."

Golson published his autobiography Whisper Not in 2016. A new documentary about his life and work also tells an inspiring story of advancement.

Golson grew up in Philadelphia, trading musical discoveries with childhood friends like John Coltrane. Golson's first professional gig was with the raucous Bull Moose Jackson R&B Orchestra. Another noted composer of jazz standards, pianist Tadd Dameron, was also in that band, and Dameron encouraged Golson to write and arrange his own compositions.

Golson played in Dizzy Gillespie's big band in the 1950s. From there he joined drummer Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, where he helped to clean up the band's business practices— making sure the musicians got paid correctly, were properly dressed, and knew where the next gig was booked. Golson wrote several pieces for the band, and helped pianist Bobby Timmons develop his famous theme, "Moanin'."

Golson co-founded The Jazztet in 1959 with flugelhorn master Art Farmer. The sextet only lasted until 1962, but their compositions and arrangements are still highly praised by critics and jazz lovers.

After The Jazztet disbanded, Golson moved on to write music for movies and for television, most notably for shows like Mannix, Mission Impossible and M*A*S*H.

Jazz musicians on the road collect and trade stories. Golson has so many to tell, and most are very funny. His longtime manager,Jacey Falk, wanted to capture the stories, and particularly Golson's delivery of them, as well as celebrate the extraordinary life of the musician.

As Falk pitched the idea of a documentary featuring Golson to producers and financers, he found himself having to explain that the film wouldn't be depressing, or show the stereotypical "jazz life" of struggle, drugs, alcohol and infidelity. That's not Benny Golson.

"We need stories of advancement, to motivate and inspire," Falk said in an interview with KNKX. "If you take away the inspiration, take away the dream, you take away a person's life."

Falk has managed and been mentored by musical giants who kept their focus on achieving the next goal: Lionel Hampton, Ruth Brown, Abbey Lincoln and Quincy Jones, as well as Benny Golson.

"The original title was Looking Beyond the Horizon, because in the movie, Benny says it's a thing of you never reach the horizon," Falk explains. "You got to keep going in that direction, and you keep reaching for it, and you keep striving for excellence and you advance."

Golson appeared in the 2014 Tom Hanks movie The Terminal. Returning the favor, Hanks talks about Golson in the documentary.

Falk has been working on the film for four years. Editing is nearly done. The last hurdle, as it is with most music documentaries, is paying the licensing fees for music, photos and film clips. Falk has set up a fundraiser to help defray these costs.

Falk believes the Benny Golson story needs to be told. And nobody tells it better than Golson himself.
Copyright 2023 KNKX Public Radio. To see more, visit KNKX Public Radio.

Robin Lloyd