Along Came Benny

Over the course of Ten years of presenting the Jazz House on BBC Radio Scotland, I’ve been blessed with encounters with some legendary names in jazz. Peter Erskine, Bobby Wellins, Annie Ross, Brandford Marsalis, Kurt Elling, Randy Brecker, to name just a few. Tomorrow I get to meet another, 86 year old saxophonist and composer Benny Golson. He’s in the photo below, “Harlem, 1958” (often referred to as A Great Day in Harlem), taken in August 1958. He’s at the top of the stairs, second on the left in glasses, with a stripe on his tie (Count Basie is sitting on the kerb next to the kids). I look at this photo almost every day, and smile at the the number of extraordinary musicians standing cheek to cheek.


Benny is one of only two surviving musicians from this photo, the other being Sonny Rollins. This week he’s in Scotland to perform his own works with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, and I’m greatly indebted to Tommy Smith for bringing him over, and for joining us in the studio.

Few musicians have had as much success as Benny as both a composer and a performer. His tunes have an easy swagger, are instantly recognisable and joyously catchy, and a great number of them have become genuine jazz standards;“Killer Joe,” “Whisper Not,” “Along Came Betty,” and one of the greatest ballads ever written, “I Remember Clifford”. He’s also a great arranger, and the SNJO will perform his arrangements of these terrific tunes.

I’m so excited, I could burst! I can’t wait to meet him, and I can’t wait to hear him play with our amazing orchestra. For Grit, for Groove, for God’s sake go and see him.

Here is Benny, in 2011, as eloquent as a teacher as he is as a performer.

You can book tickets for the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s performances with Benny Golson here. 

You can hear my interview with Benny Golson and Tommy Smith on the Jazz House, BBC Radio Scotland, from 9.05pm, Wednesday 16 September.