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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

If you were a couch potato in the 1970s, or the '80s or '90s, or this decade for that matter, you've heard the music of Benny Golson.

He wrote for the TV shows "M*A*S*H" and "Mission Impossible." That's his music. He even did a commercial for Liquid Plumber. Before he put down his tenor sax and went to Hollywood, though, Golson wrote and recorded some of the most memorable tunes in jazz - standards like "Killer Joe" and "I Remember Clifford." Next we'll hear Benny Golson in his own words. He was young and hungry in 1958. He played a stint with Dizzy Gillespie. And then one day Golson told Art Blakey, another great musician, how to run his band.

Mr. BENNY GOLSON (Musician): I had the audacity to say to him, Art, you should be a millionaire the way you play the drums. He said, can you help me? Me, a greenhorn. Nobody knows who I am. I'm just coming to town. And I can't believe what I said to him. I said, yes, if you do everything I tell you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOLSON: He said, what do I do? I said, get a new band.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GOLSON: So he asked me, who should we get? I said, there's a young trumpet player from Philadelphia who played together with Dizzy Gillespie, because Dizzy's band had broken up then. I said, yeah, I think he's 19 now.

He said, well, can he play? I said he plays very well. He said, what's his name? I said, Lee Morgan.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GOLSON: Then I told him, I said, Art, you're playing little ditties put together and you're playing a drum solo at the end of the tunes like every other group. You've got to be different if you're going to be the leader. And then I said, but you have played everything there is except the march.

And then he looked at me and said you've got to be kidding. Nobody plays the march in jazz unless you're going to a funeral in New Orleans. I said, no, I'm thinking about Grambling in the South. Do you know that black college? When they play a march it's greasy, it's funky and it's got soul, that kind of a march. He said, Golson - that's what he used to call me - Golson, it will never work.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GOLSON: Bobby Timmons played piano. When we finished a tune and before I made an announcement on the mic, he'd play this little lick or something.

(Singing) Pa-pa-da-ba-da-da-da-da. Da-da-da-da-da.

And he kept doing that, and I said, you know, that sounds like it could be a tune. You know all that stuff (unintelligible). I said no, Bobby. Finish that and put a bridge to it. And I said we're going to sit over here, you finish it. And he said, what do you think about this? I said no, no, no, that's not it. That doesn't go with the other part of the tune.

He said well you write it. I said, I can't write it. It's your tune, you write it. So we went back, in about 15 minutes he had this thing together, which he didn't think much of. He said, well, here it is and he played it. I said that's it.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GOLSON: Usually, if you don't like something, you walk away from it. If you listen to a recording, you take the tone arm off, you push the button. If you're in a club, you walk out. But if it's you you don't like, it's a little strange, you know.

(Soundbite of music)

Going to Hollywood, it was easy because I did not like the way I was sounding. I did a lot of "The Partridge Family," and for three years I did "M*A*S*H."

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: Frankly, we didn't expect any kind…

Mr. GOLSON: In fact, I thought I wouldn't play again because my interest now was in the writing. And then I got the itch. I hadn't played in seven or eight years. It was like getting over a stroke, you know. Everything had gone - the armature was gone, cobwebs in the brain. It took me 10 years to get comfortable again.

The office called me, I was in Europe, and they said we got a call from Steven Spielberg today. He wants to know would you be interested in a small speaking role with Tom Hanks in his new film, "The Terminal."

(Soundbite of movie "The Terminal")

Mr. TOM HANKS (Actor): (As Victor Navorski) You are Benny Golson?

Mr. GOLSON: Yeah, yes I am, yeah.

And it was all predicated on this picture called "Great Day in Harlem" with all these jazz musicians on it. This fellow, Tom Hanks, his father has been a jazz fan.

(Soundbite of movie "The Terminal")

Mr. HANKS: (As Viktor Navorski) He was a great, great fan of your music.

Mr. GOLSON: Oh, jazz fan. Fantastic.

And his father died. And he had all these autographs in this coffee can. And Catherine Zeta Jones said to him, what do you have on this can? You keep carrying this can around. Then he opened it and he tore out the picture and he said, see these musicians? And then the cameras zeroed it on me. My father got everybody's autograph except Benny Golson. And that's what it was about.

(Soundbite of movie "The Terminal")

Mr. HANKS: (As Victor Navorski) Please sign your name.

Mr. GOLSON: (As Himself) Oh-oh.

Mr. HANKS: (As Victor Navorski) (unintelligible)

Mr. GOLSON: Can we do it a little later, we have to get started now. Just a minute.

Mr. HANKS: (As Victor Navorski) I will wait.

Mr. GOLSON: Okay.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GOLSON: "Killer Joe" is jan-jan(ph), jan-jan. Those two chords. I remember when I was putting this together I played those two chords all day long, and my wife was going crazy and I didn't know it. These two chords all day, and in my mind I'm humming to try and get a melody together for playing these two chords. And when I finally got it together, I played it for her. And I said, what do you think about this? And she said it will never make it. It's too monotonous.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOLSON: She had to eat those words.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GOLSON: I'm just a stitch in the fabric of this thing we lovingly call jazz, you know. But I feel honored that I'm a part of it and I love it.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: That's composer and sax player Benny Golson. We heard from him as part of the series Musicians in their Own Words, produced by David Schulman and NPR's Jeffrey Freymann-Weyr.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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