The Stan Tracey Quartet
with Benny Golson
Where Or When
My Foolish Heart
Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars (Corcovado)
Just In Time
Stella By Starlight
Three Little Words
Benny Golson [tenor saxophone];
Stan Tracey (piano);
Rick Laird (bass);
Ronnie Stephenson (drums 1,2,3 & 4);
Billy Hart (drums 5,6, & 7).
Recorded live at Ronnie Scott's Club, 26th November 1965.
Prepared for CD release by Les Tomkins and Dave Bennett
Re-mastered by Dave Bennett
Digital editing by Paul Adams
When you've met, talked in depth to, and become acquainted with as many talented-to-virtuoso jazz performers as I have, you can't help deciding who you have found to be the most likeable as human beings. When I think of my 'favourites' in this context, restricting myself to Americans, some of the names that spring to mind are Herman, Oliver, Bellson, Rich, Sims, Woods, Eldridge - and Benny Golson. In this note I will attempt to convey some of my experiences of Benny's likeability. The CD conveys the parallel likeability of his playing.
I have had three lengthy word-spinning encounters with Benny Golson. The first was on the same November '65 day that the music herewith was recorded. Not a word of this interview has been in print before now, due to my not being my own Editor at the time. Although he had never played in Britain prior to this engagement, he had been here several times in other capacities - directing a TV big band and recording his own film music. As soon as we sat down, he was eager to praise British musicianship in general, and the saxophone solo abilities of Ronnie Scott, Ronnie Ross, Tubby Hayes and Peter King in particular: "By world standards, they measure up. They can go anywhere in the world and be accepted - each has something different to offer. They're excellent."
I like to believe that the next topic I raised had a bearing at least on the version of "My Foolish Heart" contained here. During four previous sets I'd caught in Ronnie's, I had not heard him play a ballad, in spite of his notable ballad recordings previously, and his being the composer of such lush specialities as "I Remember Clifford". He gave a very full answer. "It depends on how I feel at the time. To play a ballad, you have to play a certain way - if I don't feel that way, I don't play it. A ballad to me is a very special thing; it's what measures a musician's ability rather than the faster things. You need much more concentration to get the ideas to come off properly - if you make a mistake it stands out like a bright light in a dark room. Whereas when you're playing fast, if anything goes wrong you can tend to cover it up easier, just from having a fast succession of notes. If you're lacking in imagination it doesn't show up so much. On the ballads, to get the proper feeling from it you have to have imagination - instead of just running up the chords. If it's a C7th, all right, you run up a C7th; the next chord's an F7th, you run that. But that doesn't mean anything - you should be able to superimpose your own inner melodies upon the melody that has already been written by the composer. So that when you're playing a ballad, in essence you're creating another melody. You might take a few beats out to breathe - and this happens when a song is written. There come some points in the song - sort of like resting places - where you get to a word and you'll hold that word, before going on to the next one. And a ballad should be played the same way. I've heard people play ballads, and when they get to the solo part, they just run all through the chords, up and down and around. It can be effective, if you feel that you want it like that, but I think the real ballad should be more expressive, more personal, warmer. That's why it requires something extra, and if I don't feel it at that particular moment, I don't do it, or I might do it an injustice. That is what I use as a barometer for anyone's ability - to really see what he's got to offer is to hear him play a ballad".
Then I commented that I hadn't yet heard him play one of his own songs - he later obliged with "Stablemates", as you can hear. His response verbally was: "When I compose, when I write, when I orchestrate, I'm a different person than when I'm standing on the bandstand with a horn in my hand. It's like two separate entities. I don't feel the same. When I play, I'm like any other musician - I play songs that I like. Some of them might be my own, but a great many are not. I get just as much pleasure - and more, depending on what the tune is - from playing other people's compositions.
First of all, I've got to be myself, I've got to have a certain rapport with the audience, and I've got to let the people know that what I'm doing is sincere. And being sincere and truthful with the people I've got to play what I feel. I can't just play one of my tunes because I wrote it. When I finish a number, I have to think what I'm going to do next - it has to lead into something else. I'm not trying to exploit my compositions in any way. I could easily do it - I could play all my songs - but when I get on the stand I'm just a saxophone player, playing what he enjoys playing".
My other two relaxed, friendly chats with Benny took place in the 'eighties. Within a few weeks of receiving a copy of the opening instalment, Benny wrote to me from his California home, apologising for his "great delay" in replying, expressing his pleasure in our meeting, and telling me my article was "super", my layout had "an arresting quality" and "it soon became quite obvious to me that with pen in hand you are one who commands a loud voice". He thanked me for giving him the exposure and concluded: "Guard your mind and protect your hands, as I hope that all they find to do continues to meet with certain success".
Finally, to revert to that initial unpublished interview, for a quote that is as much of a message to the PC pigeon-holers as was Freddie Hubbard's informing me that his original influence was Chet Baker. To my query re the jazz that he'd listened to when very young, that had been the basic inspiration for him, he said: "I was crazy about Glenn Miller. He used to come on the radio in Philadelphia every night at 7.15, for 15 minutes, and it was a must. Wherever I was, whatever I was doing, I had to be there. I liked the tunes, the sound of the band, the clarinet lead. It may be a little corny and dated now, but it was a good sound, and it still is. Because other forms of music come on the scene, it doesn't negate another kind - it just adds to the wealth of music that we already have. I think it's healthy to appreciate the old things as well as the new".
As a matter of fact, this recording itself represents a transition from the old to the new. Benny Golson was the very last American artist to perform at the Old Place in Gerrard Street. In December 1965 Ronnie Scott's Club was rehoused at the New Place, part of the premises in Frith Steet, London that it occupies to the present day.
"Benny Golson - Three Little Words" is one of two albums which, in their different ways, are among the most valuable additions to the Archive series. Firstly, the Stan Tracey trio on its own, whereas previously they have appeared in an accompanying role on a number of earlier Archive issues. This CD now shows why Stan was held in high esteem by most of the American guests and continued in the demanding position as resident pianist at the Old Place, Gerrard Street, for seven years. (See Laughin' & Scratchin'). Second is a storming session, all from one night on November 26, 1965 by the gifted and technically brilliant tenorist, composer, arranger Benny Golson, the last US musician to appear at Gerrard Street. Tracey is on Benny Golson's album engaging in what sounds to be at times another very demanding stint as the accompanying trio. Rick Laird and Ronnie Stephenson are again on hand but presumably American drummer Billy Hart dropped by to sit in for the last three numbers. Years ago I would have described Golson as a class tenor man with a rounded warm tone strongly reminiscent of Lucky Thompson, though more modern in concept; fine player, but to paraphrase a little, he almost played 'arrangers' tenor! Wonderful albums under his own name, with the Jazztet co-led by Art Farmer, and the Blakey Messengers followed over the years, but nonetheless, this season at the club must have opened many ears. The title track is at a racehorse tempo, and Just In Time nearly as fast (at over 10 minutes each), displaying Golson's quite incredible technique but, more important, the logicality of the improvisational lines at such tempos. All this reveals a sea-change from earlier years, yet strangely in the slow tempos that beautiful quasi-Thompson touch, if a little harder, is still apparent but when things are really moving the undoubted Coltrane influence in the sheer speed and phrase formation is uppermost. Happily though this is only in that regard, the basic warm Golson sound still prevails. There is a beautiful My Foolish Heart and an 18.51 minute Stella By Starlight; only his own Stablemates seems to be at an unsuitably fast clip. An astonishing 79.46 minutes of deeply committed live modern jazz of the highest order.
© BRIAN DAVIS Review first published in JARS