Benny Golson loves to talk. The jazz legend’s loquaciousness overshadowed the music he performed in the first of two sets Saturday at the Blue Room.
“Some people say I talk too much,” Golson admitted. “But I don’t see any of them here tonight, so I’m off and running.”
A celebrated composer and an alumnus of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Golson has vast experience and compelling musical concepts that rendered all of the anecdotes and theories he related fascinating. Graced with boundless enthusiasm and the quick wit of a canny raconteur, the 83-year-old is a captivating speaker. Even before the first note was played, he was compelled to explain his intentions.
“Jazz is really about improvisation,” he said. “None of you are here tonight to hear me play the melody over and over.”
The audience heard Golson play only three songs in the hourlong set. He sat out on the set’s finale, a blues tribute to the late Red Holloway. The all-star band that was to have backed Golson was not present. The three substitutes — including popular Kansas City drummer Tommy Ruskin — were fine players but clearly lacked the rapport of a working band. The only selection that resembled more than a leisurely stroll was a frantic version of John Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.”
Golson amusingly recalled how he and Coltrane would practice in his mother’s apartment when the pair were teenagers with big dreams and limited skills. Golson’s aggressive tenor saxophone work during “Mr P.C.” effectively conjured the revolutionary sound associated with his boyhood friend.
“I have a confession to make,” Golson teased. “I’m really a lousy saxophone player.”
His playing disproved the assertion. Each of his limited solo excursions was impeccably graceful.
While his playing remains impressive, Golson’s timeless compositions are his foremost contribution to jazz. “Blues March,” “Killer Joe” and “I Remember Clifford” are integral parts of the repertoire. Unfortunately, none of Golson’s seminal works were heard in a set that was long on entertainment but distressingly short on music.