Jazz Icon Benny Golson on the Legendary ‘A Great Day in Harlem’ Photo

Sixty years in the past, 57 jazz musicians gathered in entrance of a Harlem brownstone at 17 East 126th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues, for a photograph shoot. Though it didn’t look like a giant deal on the time, the ensuing , taken by Art Kane and revealed within the January 1959 situation of Esquire, went on to turn out to be one of the iconic photos in jazz. The shot, which featured such legends as Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Lester Young, and Mary Lou Williams, captured the music at an inflection level. The subsequent yr, younger innovators like John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Dave Brubeck would report now-canonical albums that modified jazz without end.

Jazz is usually forged by way of ahead progress, every epoch neutering the earlier one — small-group bebop usurping big-band swing, for example. But “A Great Day in Harlem,” the topic of a not too long ago revealed ebook referred to as Art Kane: Harlem 1958, which incorporates a number of outtakes from the day, is a portrait of concord, previous and new guard alike peaceably intermingling. The photograph means that jazz is as a lot about continuity and custom as it's about radical change.

Of the handfuls of musicians who confirmed up, solely two are nonetheless alive: the tenor saxophonists Sonny Rollins and Benny Golson. At the time, Rollins, who had already recorded such albums as Tenor Madness, Saxophone Colossus, and Way Out West (not too long ago reissued), was a titan of his instrument. But Golson, who has composed among the most enduring tunes in jazz, together with “Whisper Not,” “Stablemates,” “Killer Joe,” “Blues March,” and “I Remember Clifford,” had but to show himself, by his account. “I used to be the brand new boy on the town,” he recalled.

In a current telephone dialog, Golson, who turns 90 in January and wrote a foreword for the ebook, mirrored on his profession in jazz, trying again on that morning in August 1958 when he appeared on the 10 a.m. shoot — unreasonably early by the requirements of jazz musicians, who are likely to preserve unreasonably late hours — to seek out so a lot of his idols in attendance. “It was,” he stated, “a small miracle.”

Tell me in regards to the photograph. How do you know to indicate up on the spot at 10 within the morning?
Do you bear in mind somebody named Nat Hentoff?

Of course.
During that point, he was writing for DownBeat earlier than he grew to become concerned with politics, and he was the one who referred to as me. At that point, I used to be the brand new boy on the town, and I simply thought it was one other — go up there, click on, and that was it. But after I obtained up there, I noticed all of my heroes, after which I puzzled, Why within the heck am I right here? Nobody actually is aware of who I'm. When I obtained there, most all people who was purported to be there was there, however the issue was, as Art [Kane] was attempting to get all people collectively collectively, there was a bar on the nook, and he had a tough time getting everybody again from the bar on the identical time. Art was such a affected person man, he was attempting to get that every one collectively. It took over an hour to get that image. And after we lastly took the ultimate shot, Willie “the Lion” Smith was within the bar — he didn’t make the shot.

Wasn’t it somewhat early to be ingesting?
Well, it looks as if this was a special day and so they wished to enhance it somewhat bit.

Where did you reside on the time?
Where I lived in the meanwhile was 55 West 92nd Street. I used to be on the fourth ground and Quincy [Jones] was on the sixth ground. We had been in the identical constructing, however by some means he wasn’t referred to as or he didn’t make it. Something occurred, and he wasn’t within the . In reality, there have been lots of people who weren’t within the . But you realize, lots of people had been working: John Coltrane, Miles, Duke Ellington, Woody Herman. Buddy Rich ought to have been there. Greatest drummer I ever heard in my life. I’m not speaking about his type. His method — no one may contact that man. I’m telling you, no drummer that you simply ever communicate of — Max Roach, Kenny Clarke, Gene Krupa. No method. He was in an area by himself, and I don’t know if folks understand that.

That’s attention-grabbing that it's best to say that as a result of he appears to be type of excluded from the pantheon.
That’s their mistake. But his persona was horrible.

You talked about that you simply didn’t really feel such as you belonged within the firm of among the different type of legendary musicians.
Right, I hadn’t actually confirmed myself by then. Most of the fellows there, I knew who they had been, however I didn’t know them. Who did I do know? I knew Dizzy Gillespie as a result of I used to be along with his band. I knew Gigi Gryce — a few months after that image was taken, he was the most effective man at my marriage ceremony. I knew Art Farmer, who's standing beside me, and I knew Art Blakey, and I knew Sonny Rollins. The different folks I didn’t actually know. Of course, as time glided by, I obtained to know most of them, however initially, I used to be the brand new boy on the town. I inform my audiences, a scenario like that, I may have appeared there nude and no one would have paid any consideration to me.

I really feel such as you’re promoting your self brief. By the time this photograph was taken, you had already written “Whisper Not,” and also you’d additionally put out a couple of data beneath your individual identify.
Well, what actually obtained me began was when Miles Davis report “Stablemates” [in 1955]. Before that, I’m embarrassed after I look again. I'd meet folks and provides them a lead sheet. Nothing ever occurred. But when John Coltrane left to affix Miles, I noticed him one week in a while Columbia Avenue, the road in North Philadelphia the place John and I lived — I lived on 17th Street; he lived on 12th Street. I requested him the way it was going with Miles as a result of I knew he needed to come abreast with the repertoire, and he stated it was going good. Then he added, “But Miles wants some tunes, do you've got any?” Are you kidding? I had written this oddball tune referred to as “Stablemates.” John took it with him, and I didn’t assume any extra of it as a result of no one was recording something of mine. James Moody recorded the very very first thing, and it didn’t get a lot consideration. Then I bumped into John a few month later, and he stated “Guess what?” I stated, “What, he do this tune I gave you?” He stated, “Yeah, we recorded it!” I stated, “What? Miles recorded my tune?” He stated, “Yeah, Miles dug it.” And after I noticed Miles, Miles stated to me, “What had been you smokin’ if you wrote that?”

Miles can be sorely lacking from that photograph, in fact.
And Red Garland, who was from Philadelphia. He wasn’t within the image, however I assume if he had been on the town he would have been. But then, like I stated, a number of others weren’t there. And we by no means knew. What do you do if you get and also you end studying it? The one which had the in it, with the image, I threw it within the trash, like we at all times do. And then it began to achieve fame. Those who had been nonetheless alive, we couldn’t consider it. When I signed with Columbia Records, Bruce Lundvall, he had the image, and I lamented to him, “Ah, I had that image, and I threw that journal away!” I went again to Philadelphia — I used to be nearly to signal with the label — and a few weeks later, the doorbell rang and it was any individual with a giant package deal; he’d despatched me a big-size copy of that image, which remains to be in my home in Los Angeles. That image actually grew to become iconic, after which ones, twos, threes, all people began to depart, after which we lastly wound up with Sonny Rollins and me.

Do you stroll by the spot in any respect?
Never, by no means, by no means; it’s out of my territory. It’s up on 126th Street on the East Side. I by no means go on the East Side for something. Not that I attempt to keep away from it. What I do by no means takes me there. So that’s the way in which it's.

It looks as if you’re in fairly fine condition.
You know, this January, I’ll be 90 years previous. Now, I inform my audiences, it’s a great factor I selected music as a result of I’m nonetheless taking part in. It’s a great factor I wasn’t a quarterback. Who’s ever heard of an 89-year-old quarterback? So I’m nonetheless useful. I nonetheless do what's in my coronary heart to do. I’m nonetheless in a position to play, nothing improper with my thoughts and my fingers. [When] I play my solo now, there’s a chair proper by the piano. I sit down, however I’m nonetheless taking part in. Of course, Sonny won't ever play once more. Tragic.

What are you engaged on these days, something new?
Nothing new. What has occurred to me now, after being married 60 years — my spouse has Alzheimer’s, and my life isn't the identical, not the identical. She doesn’t know who my daughter is. Sometimes she is aware of who I'm. Sometimes she’ll ask me the place do I dwell. It’s humorous and tragic on the identical time.

That’s a great way to take a look at it.
So I don’t wish to be away. We had a spot in Germany for years — I needed to give it up, promote the automobile, give the piano away, as a result of I can’t be in Germany in the course of the summer season, as a result of she’s right here in a nursing house. So we gave it up. And I wish to be right here as a lot as I can. I don’t wish to be gone too lengthy. I don’t wish to do something that’s going to take me away too lengthy. Yet I've to work; I’m not wealthy! So my life is sort of totally different. Sometimes I really feel like simply mendacity down and crying.

So you’re largely performing now?
No, I additionally do grasp courses. I’ve been as much as Hartford and Stanford and all through Europe and totally different schools. They need me as a result of I’m previous and I've a number of data. I’ve seen all of it, Matt.

I really feel such as you and Wayne Shorter
That man doesn’t present his age, does he?

That’s true, nevertheless it’s attention-grabbing that you simply’re each tenor saxophonists and also you’ve each written such enduring tunes. I really feel prefer it’s not usually the case that tenor sax gamers are composers.
He’s of the identical ilk, completely. He’s nonetheless taking part in, and he sounds nice.

Plenty of the tunes that you simply wrote had been very memorable, melodically talking, however I don’t hear that as a lot in jazz these days. Do you assume there’s much less of an emphasis on melody in fashionable jazz?
Not as a lot melody as there was once. Some of the tunes generally sound athletic, you realize? The memorable factor — you realize, I really like writing ballads, however there’s no actual room for ballads anymore (like Peggy Lee, Diana Ross, Sarah Vaughan, Mel Tormé, Ella Fitzgerald), that’s type of passed by the wayside a bit.

In 2004, you had been featured within the Steven Spielberg movie The Terminal, with Tom Hanks. Do you communicate with him?
I hear from Tom on a regular basis, not a lot from Steve. His spouse, Rita, she’s a singer. They’re each sweethearts. But they’re abnormal similar to you and me. So is Steven.

Did that film carry new listeners to your work?
They had somewhat gathering on the market in Hollywood as soon as, Dick Van Dyke was there. Incredible. This music has been implausible for me. I adore it. And you realize, years in the past, I was a truck driver earlier than I actually obtained began professionally. The first job I had, I used to ship furnishings. And then I obtained one other job the place I grew to become an knowledgeable at hanging these massive mirrors. I may put up a mirror in 20 minutes. I hated each of the roles. And after I went in and advised ’em I wouldn’t be coming again, all of them requested me what I used to be gonna be doing. I stated, “I’m gonna be a jazz musician.” And all of them began to chuckle. But I by no means went again. And there’s nothing improper with these sorts of jobs, there’s nothing improper with arduous work, however I inform you, and I inform my audiences, being a musician is so a lot better than being a truck driver.

I don’t assume anybody would disagree with that.
Nothing improper with it in any respect, and I appreciated the cash, however I hated each second of it. I watched the clock from eight o’clock until 5 o’clock, on daily basis.

I don’t blame you.
And right here I'm on the finish of my profession. We’ve obtained so many younger ones, and I’m impressed after I see what they’re doing. They’re doing it a lot quicker. When I used to be developing, you couldn’t go to school and get a diploma for jazz. When I went to school, I used to be advised that if I used to be caught having something to do with jazz, I'd be expelled from the school. I used to be taking part in in Washington, D.C., and I used to sneak over the wall at evening within the again, after having performed the gig, and I went to work one evening, went up on the bandstand, and I rotated and on the first desk there was the top of the speculation division. And after I completed taking part in, what I used to be anticipating was, “See me in my workplace tomorrow at 9 o’clock,” however he stated to me as an alternative, “Great set,” and nothing else was ever stated.

I’m questioning somewhat extra in regards to the photograph since you’re standing behind Art Blakey. The shot was taken in August 1958, after which two months later, you recorded “Moanin’” with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. It’s one of many canonical albums launched in 1959, together with Kind of Blue, Time Out, The Shape of Jazz to Come, Mingus Ah Um, Giant Steps …
That virtually didn’t occur, and “Moanin’” virtually didn’t occur. During breaks, generally Bobby [Timmons] would have somewhat factor he’d play, just a bit lick, no one actually performed any consideration to it. But as time glided by, we had been on the point of report. I considered that, and I stated, he’s obtained eight bars there, however he doesn’t have a bridge. I referred to as a rehearsal, and I stated, “Bobby, you realize that little factor you play? You’ve obtained a possible tune there. We’re gonna sit right here and make up an eight-bar bridge.” He stated, “Oh, that is nothing.” I stated, “Bobby, it’s obtained nice potential, attempt to put a bridge to it.” And so he did. In a few half-hour, he had one thing collectively, and he performed it for me. I stated, “Bobby, no, you don’t have the identical feeling as the unique lick.” He stated, “You write it.” I stated, “No, Bobby, this has gotta be your tune. Try once more.” And so in 15 minutes, he had a bridge, and he performed it for me, and I stated, “That’s it.” I stated, “What are you gonna name it? What does it make you consider?” He stated, “Maybe ‘Moanin’’?” I stated, “Okay, name it ‘Moanin’.’” I stated, “We’re going to play it tonight, and the viewers goes to inform us what they consider it.”

I had simply are available in to the band, and Art wasn’t making that a lot cash. There had been so many issues improper, and I talked to him generally. One of our conversations in the course of the break was, “Art, the way in which you play these drums, you have to be a millionaire.” And after I talked about the phrase millionaire, his eyes widened. And he stated to me, “What do I do?” And I had the nerve to inform him, “Do all the things I inform you to do.” And he stated, “What do I do?” I stated, “Get a brand new band.” He stated, “All proper, inform them they’re fired.” I stated, “I can’t inform them they’re fired.” I had simply come into the band, however ultimately it did occur, and it’s horrible as a result of I knew all the fellows, however the guys had been going to sleep on the bandstand and nodding and all types of loopy stuff.

And throughout all that point, all people was listening to what I used to be saying. I stated to Alfred Lion at Blue Note, “I've right here, Alfred, that one of many followers took of Art. It’s a head shot. I’d like that head shot on the quilt.” And they did all the things I used to be telling ‘em to do. Up to this present day, I can’t consider it. Incredible!

Sounds prefer it was extra your band than Art Blakey’s on the time.
At the time, yeah, as a result of I'd get the cash, and I'd pay the boys.

In Jean Bach’s documentary in regards to the photograph, A Great Day in Harlem, Marian McPartland says one thing early on that type of struck me as insightful. She wonders aloud what it will have gave the impression of if each musician had introduced his or her instrument to the shoot and everybody had performed. What do you assume that might have gave the impression of?
That by no means crossed my thoughts. That would have been one thing. How about that. We’d have had any individual from each instrument — piano, bass, trumpet, trombone. My goodness! Hmm. That by no means crossed my thoughts.