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12,393 (and counting) posts since we started blogging 12 years ago. 112 of them this year alone and, so far, 112 this month (Jan. 23).

Thursday, January 07, 2021

In Search of Benny Golson (via Sesame Street!).

Subtitle: What I did with one day of lockdown.

For reasons which will become abundantly clear, I could equally have called this piece: “Exploring My Own Ignorance”.

I recently re-watched the Tom Hanks/Spielberg film, The Terminal, which I love but had forgotten most of. I remembered the name, Benny Golson, when his cameo featuring Killer Joe came up towards the end of the film, but little else about him.

Next day, coincidentally, Paul Edis featured Killer Joe on his Patreon blog – performing, analysing and comparing several (very) different versions of it. Despite it being in the film (where Golson’s sax takes the melody) I had not realised Golson composed the song. It has a different “feel” in the Jazztet version when muted trumpet takes the lead and different again in the harmonica version (which I loved) by Toots Thielemans, the multi-talented Belgian. I’d never heard of Thielemans but had often, unknowingly, HEARD him play on the theme music of Sesame Street which I promptly Googled and took a trip down memory lane! How potently music evokes memories – of my own children rapt in front of the telly, in this case.

In the Jazztet version, Golson gives some character notes for Killer Joe, the person. On The Manhattan Transfer’s version, from their brilliant Vocalese album, Tim Hauser elaborates, theatrically and gaudily costumed, on those notes. Well worth a watch!

Returning then to the film, to check how Golson fitted into the plot I became curious about the crumpled newspaper photo Viktor Navorski carries in his Planters Peanuts tin. It is, of course, an iconic 1958 picture by photographer Art Kane (which I was also ignorant of!) entitled A Great Day in Harlem. Googling that produced a list of musicians’ names – 57 in all, including Golson, of course. To my shame, I recognised only 17 of them. Try Googling it yourself and see how many you recognise instantly – I’ll wager Lance and Russell will get 100%! I also noted that there was a 1995(?) documentary all about the occasion captured in the photo. Watching that (to shine more light in my caverns of ignorance) will now go to the top of my “to-do” list.

The Terminal had a very mixed reception from film critics and, although it made healthy profits at the box-office, it was small-beer compared to most Spielberg films but it did feature (and here I am showing my ignorance again because it never really registered with me) an outstanding sound-track by John Williams. So I Googled that, too, and thoroughly enjoyed just shutting my eyes and listening to the music – especially the most relevant track here, Jazz Autographs, which is a beautiful piece in its own right.

That its beauty never consciously registered with me as one of the things which made the film enjoyable is testimony to the power music has over the emotions – even subconsciously. That’s the subject matter of another (for me) revelatory documentary series on music by Neil Brand (on BBC i-Player) where he looks at film and TV themes, advertising jingles, games music and a host of other things which are the sound-track of modern life. I recommend them as well!


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