Golson and Trane Dissed in Philly (circa 1944)


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This article was originally published at All About Jazz in 1999.

John Coltrane and Benny Golson stand among the major figures of jazz in the second half of the twentieth century, Coltrane primarily as a player and Golson primarily as a composer. But in 1944 Philadelphia they were teenagers just getting their feet wet, learning tunes and jamming in the Golson living room (at this time Coltrane played alto in the style of Johnny Hodges). Benny was 15, Coltrane was 17. The following story was related to me by Benny Golson in a December 1994 interview.

Let me tell you something funny that happened. John Coltrane and I were working in a band and we had a job coming up. We used to live for these jobs. The job was two weeks away. It was like a countdown. We were going to get a chance to play in front of people and go up to the microphone just like I had heard Arnett Cobb play. BIG TIME STUFF!

The day before the job, the leader told us that the job had been cancelled. John and I and Ray Bryant were kids. The rest were full-grown men. We were depressed. We were sitting there in my living room on the night we were supposed to be playing.

So my mother came in and noticed that we were sitting around looking depressed. "What's wrong?" "Well, we had this job and Jimmy (it was Jimmy Johnson's band) said the job was cancelled." When did he tell you it was cancelled?" "Last night." "That's strange. People don't tell you the job is cancelled the night before." And in her infinite wisdom she said "You know what? I'll bet he's playing there without you. Where are you supposed to play?" We said "At the American Legion Hall." "I'll bet he's playing there. If I were you I'd go up there and see if he's playing."

John looked at me and I looked at John. We started walking (We walked everywhere. We didn't have carfare). We got about a half a block from the place and we heard a band playing! We said "WHAT?!" " Well, maybe it's somebody else, John." We had to find out who that was playing down there. We didn't have money to get in. You had to go downstairs and across the dance floor and the bandstand was in the back.

The people would come and every time they'd come they'd open the door but we couldn't see down the steps. We thought that the only way we could see was to lay down on our stomachs on the ground. So we'd wait for the next two people and when they opened the door we'd jump down on the ground. I guess they thought we'd taken leave of our senses. But we could see that it was the band playing without us. I guess the profit motive or whatever. Well, we weren't good enough to be....'cause he had an alto saxophonist there (John played alto) and he had a tenor player (I played tenor also) but we had two of each in the big band. But we weren't good enough, I guess, to do what they were doing. They were playing without the music, like jamming, and didn't have a repertoire. Didn't stop us from being so bummed out though.

So we walked back to the house. When we got back to the house my mother said "What happened?" John said "You were right, Mrs. Golson." We were more depressed than ever. And she tried to encourage us. So she came and put one arm around John and she put one arm around me and she said "Don't worry, babies. One day you'll be so good they won't be able to afford you." And you know, that's exactly what happened!

John and I were at Newport once and he was getting ready to go on. He was warming up in the tent there and he started laughing and recalled the time, "Remember that time, so and so...." Oh, we both started laughing. I said "Yeah, wasn't that something? Mom was right!"

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