Any jazz musician worth his horn will know the friendly, two-chord call of “Killer Joe.” Written in 1959 for Golson’s and Art Farmer’s Jazztet, the standard is simple enough for young players to pick up immediately and spacious enough for more seasoned players to stretch out and wail upon. In fact, it’s so ubiquitous that I’ve seen the occasional vet roll their eyes when a young player at a jam requests the tune.
From his stint with the Moanin’ era Jazz Messengers to the clean and proper Jazztet, from standard to golden standard, Golson is the type of saxophonist you will inevitably run into if you spend all day listening to KRTU. So he's the perfect living legend choice for the jazz station's 40th anniversary concert. On Friday, October 7, KRTU will host the NEA Jazz Master with opener Henry Brun at Trinity University's Laurie Auditorium. In addition to celebrating their 40th anniversary, the station will launch its new broadcast signal, extending their FM-reach from 549 to 3,059 square miles.
Born in 1929, Golson was part of the Philadelphia generation that helped define jazz in the '50s and '60s. Coming up under the direction of bandleaders Bull Moose Jackson and Lionel Hampton, Golson made his leap to the small combo with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in 1957. On the classic Moanin' record, Golson wrote five of seven compositions, marking his claim as one of the great straight-ahead composers of the time.
Also in '57, in the face of tragedy, Golson wrote one of the great ballads in the bop canon. On June 26, 1956, the innovative, young and absurdly talented trumpeter Clifford Brown died in a car crash with Nancy and Richie Powell. Golson, who played with Brown in Lionel Hampton's band, breathes love and sadness from his horn on "I Remember Clifford."
Today, Golson's status as a link to the past is quite literal. Of the 57 musicians in the "Great Day in Harlem" photo — a 1958 picture of jazz's finest taken by photographer Art Kane for Esquire — only Golson and the sax colossus Sonny Rollins remain.