Wellesley Welcomes Jazz Legend Benny Golson

March 16, 2015
Jazz legend Benny Golson

Legendary composer, arranger, lyricist, producer and tenor saxophonist Benny Golson has helped define jazz. Wellesley welcomed Golson to campus this weekend to celebrate both the genre and the 30th anniversary of its inclusion in Wellesley’s music program.

Golson’s visit was part of the Wellesley College Concert Series, whose varied programs include efforts “to feature the artists who really helped to shape the uniquely American music we call jazz,” says Cercie Miller, senior music faculty and director of the Wellesley BlueJazz program. “Benny Golson, is not only a virtuostic saxophonist who has played with the ‘who’s who’ in jazz, but also one of our greatest living composers, responsible for many classic compositions in the jazz canon.”

Golson has performed in the world-famous bands of Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, and Lionel Hampton, among others. He has recorded more than 30 albums and written well over 300 compositions, and has written eight standards for jazz repertoire, more than any other living jazz artist. He received the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award in 1995.

One needn’t be a jazz aficionado to be familiar with Golson’s work. He has created compositions for artists including Count Basie, Quincy Jones, Itzhak Perlman, Lou Rawls, and Diana Ross; television shows and movies such as M*A*S*HMission ImpossibleThe Mod SquadThe Partridge Family, and Cosby; and commercials for Gillette, Heinz, Dodge, and McDonald’s.

Golson began his career in jazz as a teenager in Philadelphia. As he explained in a 2003 interview with All About Jazz, “I started out wanting to be a pianist and as I got into it, I fancied that I wanted to be a concert pianist. That got a few chuckles in the ghetto, you know. But at 14, I heard the saxophone and my first influence was Arnett Cobb. I went to the theatre one day and I heard him play Flying Home and that changed my life. Then after that, of course, it was Coleman Hawkins, Don Byas, Ben Webster, Dexter Gordon, and then John Coltrane and I went through the ranks together.”

This master of the medium taught a master class at Wellesley with music students on Saturday, and later played an evening concert with fellow international performers Ron Mahdi, Ralph Peterson, and Hey Rim Jeon—a public performance that was booked solid as soon as reservations were made available.

“When we have the opportunity to bring a jazz legend to our campus, we want to support a more immersive experience,” says Miller. “Our students in Wellesley BlueJazz, our college big band and BlueJazz combos, and our small jazz ensembles have been studying and playing Benny Golson’s compositions all semester. Our Jazz-World Music faculty featured new arrangements of Golson’s music in their annual Jazz-World faculty concert this year. These activities and performances prepared us to experience Benny Golson’s visit to our campus more fully.”

Concert Series programs remain free and open to the public thanks to very generous donor support. This season’s Concert Series is funded by the Marjorie Copland Baum Memorial Fund.

And the celebration continues…From April 24 through the first weekend in May, the Jazz-World Music program offers Ayaman, or a call to gather, hosted in cooperation with the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life Art & Soul program. Five Ayaman events will feature Wellesley student musicians in various performances, culminating with a performance by students and guest artists. The week-long celebration ends in a reception honoring the Gran Moun, or “those who have come before.” All are welcome to enjoy the food, music and dance; please follow our Events pages for more information.