Benny Golson and Curtis Fuller at the Kennedy Center
At the tune's completion, Golson went on to say that in 1958 he received a call from Art Blakey, asking him to serve as a substitute at New York's Café Bohemiathe very next evening. A third and forth evening were requested by the revered drummer-leader of The Jazz Messengers. A week in Pittsburgh followed. "Didn't you go to Howard University in D.C.? Blakey asked. "Well, come to DC for a couple of weeks. Of course, Golson became a new member of the organization. As such, Golson was asked to recommend new players for the band. He suggested trumpeter Lee Morgan, Bobby Timmons and Jymie Merrit, all of whom were from Philadelphia. The new band's first series of shows was in Europe, where Golson wrote "Are You Real," which became another jazz standard. Illustrating the point musically, Golson stated the familiar theme, with Fuller filling out the melody's distinctive harmonies, before Golson was left to solo. At this point, the unit seemed fully at ease, and Carl Allen exploded with his propulsive playing.
On 125th Street in 1956, Golson next explained, he was at the Apollo Theater in New York. It was an August summer day between shows. At the corner of 8th Avenue and 126th Street was the bar of choice for many of the musicians. Golson witnessed Walter Davis, Jr. walking erratically as he exited. Golson assumed that alcohol was to blame; but as Davis approached the group, he cried as he delivered the news that Clifford Brown had been killed in an automobile accident the prior evening. Golson wrote "I Remember Clifford the next week while in Los Angeles, and the tune has become one of his most beloved. Fuller exited the stage after the story, allowing Golson to begin alone, with a breathy opening line of almost crushing naked emotion. The melody was simply stated but swathed in memory and loss. With Allen contributing tasteful accents, Golson continued for only a few minutes and stopped almost in if in mid-thought, perhaps seeking to draw a parallel to Brown's own suddenly halted life. The band stopped with him. But Golson's genial and generous nature would not allow him to conclude a performance so abruptly.
"It was in Dayton, Ohio where I met Betty Pritchett," Golson continued. "It was a very, very, very, very good relationship. But one day she left him. It was when he was with the Jazz Messengers shortly thereafter, that the group played at the Spotlight Room on Rhode Island Avenue in Washington, D.C. and he met another woman named "Betty." She became his wife, and "Along Came Betty, yet another Golson standard, was the result. It was delivered by the full group with crisp articulation and graceful expression.
At the end of the hour, I realized that much of the performance consisted of Golson reflecting on a jazz life well lived. Curtis Fuller, a member of Blakey's Jazz Messengers far longer than Golson but ever the modest gentlemen, remained vocally silent, his contributions limited to the musical arena. Golson's storytelling is to be expected, however, when he performs. While some in the audience may have thought the stories to be of little interest, they serve as an eyewitness account of an important chapter in American music history. One can only hope that Benny Golson and Curtis Fuller continue their significant contributions for many years.
A video of the March 7, 2007 Golson-Fuller performance is available on this Kennedy Center page.
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