Todays post is going to be about Benny Golson who was the last person to sign the famous jazz photograph “A Great day in Harlem” in the famous movie “The Terminal” that featured Tom Hanks as the starring actor.
I had the great pleasure to meet and chat with Benny Golson when I was a student at the New School Jazz Performance program. I had already published one post named Young Coltrane and Benny Golson meets Charlie Parker that mentioned a story from our chat that day. We kept asking many questions about jazz in the old times when we had Benny Golson present right in front of us. When the subject came to jazz improvisation, he mentioned the importance of recording and listening back to what you have played. The jazz giant Benny Golson kept talking about how the recordings never lied and described them as honest, objective photographs of our improvisations. He was right in deed. Because, we do not have the chance to listen to what we are doing from a critical objective stand point when we loose our selves in the heat of the moment while we are improvising on stage.
If you think about how small the electronic recording devices became with the help of today’s technology, you will see how easy it is to achieve a great recording of your performances/rehearsals. However, it was not that easy to produce similar results during 1940s. Moreover, you had to use your creativity to the end by bending a few rules. That is what our story is about.
Benny Golson told us his stories with a childish enthusiasm. He talked about how they used vinyl to record their rehearsals. As it turns out, you needed a few people just to record and some creativity to hear it back immediately. One person was brushing the vinyl while the other was adding some chemical liquid. If you try to picture it, you will see that it is very romantic since the only reason to be there must be the love of jazz if you are not playing at the rehearsal. Try to imagine a session where a few people had to get together, add ingredients, brush, mix just as you would while cooking a delicate meal
You must be wondering if it was possible to hear back what you have recorded right away back in those days. Only if you are as creative as Benny Golson. The turn table needles were straight like regular needles. I am talking about straight, thin, cylinder shaped needles. If you are as impatient and creative as Benny Golson, you could bite the needle, bend over 90 degrees while standing and touch the vinyl with the needle while closing both of your ears with forefingers of your hands to hear back what you have just recorded in stereo. Stereo part is a joke of course since both ears will be hearing the same exact thing but, if Benny Golson says “I have invented the first stereo.” and tells you about this story, there is nothing more to say.
At the end of our post, I would like to say good bye with a video recording of Benny Golson that will help us to know his music better. To go well with our story, I have chosen the jazz standard “Take the A train.”: