Benny Golson | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Benny Golson


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When tenor saxist Benny Golson hit the scene in the late 1950s, playing with Dizzy Gillespie and then the first great edition of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, he quickly made his mark--a superlative player, he'd been shaped by bebop, but his large sound had more in common with swing-era giant Coleman Hawkins than any bop tenor man. By the end of his tenure with Blakey, though, his sculpted tone and juggernaut solos had been eclipsed in most listeners' minds by his indelible compositions. Songs like "Blues March," "Whisper Not," "I Remember Clifford," and "Along Came Betty" have become touchstones of the hard-bop era, and contributed mightily to the success of both the Blakey band and the Jazztet, a six-piece that Golson led with the late Art Farmer in the early 60s--and that introduced a 20-year-old pianist named McCoy Tyner to the world. In Quincy Jones's hands, "Killer Joe" reached way beyond the jazz audience, and even Golson's lesser-known tunes--"Time Speaks," "Vas Simeon," "Fair Weather"--have a remarkable iconic quality: when you first hear one it sounds fresh but somehow familiar. A lot of aging bop musicians who've benefited from the recent revivalism really can't cut it anymore; Golson still records regularly though, and throughout the 90s he played with the same bluff strength and virile inventiveness he had in the 50s--last year he earned a surprising Grammy nomination for the solo work on his album Tenor Legacy (Arkadia). I expect more of the same on his new one, featuring the late trumpeter Nat Adderley and pianist Monty Alexander, due in a week and a half. In Chicago, Golson will front a local rhythm section led by the indefatigable Willie Pickens, who on his better nights constructs solo after solo with the speed and precision of an orb-weaving spider. Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.

Neil Tesser

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