Whisper Not

The Autobiography of Benny Golson

Benny Golson and Jim Merod
Association for Recorded Sound Collections' award for Best History Book in the category of Best Historical Research in Recorded Jazz, 2017
One of the Best Jazz books of 2017 by New York City Jazz Record
Book Cover

HC: $39.50
EAN: 978-1-4399-1333-8
Publication: May 16

Ebook: $39.50
EAN: 978-1-4399-1335-2
Publication: May 16

352 pages
6 x 9
33 halftones

A funny, touching, and insightful memoir from one of the last surviving members of the greatest generation of American jazz musicians

Read the Preface and the Introduction (pdf).


" One of the greatest artists our country has is Benny Golson. He is not only a great musician, but an original and fabulous composer. He is inventive and creative and his work is loved the world over. Benny is a rare, creative genius. All I would like to say is THREE CHEERS for Benny Golson!"—Tony Bennett

Composer supreme, tenor man supreme, jazz man supreme, good guy supreme: that’s BENNY GOLSON!"Sonny Rollins

Born during the de facto inaugural era of jazz, saxophonist Benny Golson learned his instrument and the vocabulary of jazz alongside John Coltrane while Golson was still in high school in Philadelphia. Quickly establishing himself as an iconic fixture on the jazz landscape, Golson performed with dozens of jazz greats, from Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins, and Jimmy Heath to Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, and many others. An acclaimed composer, Golson also wrote music for Hollywood films and television and composed such memorable jazz standards as “Stablemates,” “Killer Joe,” and “Whisper Not.”

An eloquent account of Golson’s exceptional life—presented episodically rather than chronologically— Whisper Not includes a dazzling collection of anecdotes, memories, experiences, and photographs that recount the successes, the inevitable failures, and the rewards of a life eternally dedicated to jazz.


" Benny is a dear friend who has always been one of my favorite composers and saxophonists. His creativity is absolutely top level. I had no idea of the many spectacularly interesting and moving incidents in Benny’s life. Eloquently written, Whisper Not reads as though Benny is speaking directly to you (another of his many hidden talents). Do yourself a favor and pick up this book. I highly recommend it." —Herbie Hancock

" Like his finest compositions, Benny Golson’s autobiography is instantly engaging and enchants to the end. He and his collaborator, Jim Merod, have found an original way to tell the story of a long and fulfilling life, creating a tapestry of recollection, insight, and understanding of the human and artistic aspects of the music—or simply said, one of the best books on the subject of jazz." —Dan Morgenstern, Director Emeritus of the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies and author of Living with Jazz

"Having known Benny Golson since the mid-1960s, I can say that this autobiography, written in collaboration with Jim Merod, really captures the essence of Benny Golson the man and Benny Golson the musician and composer. Although Benny predates me by some fifteen years, I spent my teen years playing at some of the same spots on Columbia Avenue in Philly. For me, Whisper Not combines a walk down memory lane with a history lesson to bring to life the enduring friendships and bonds created during Benny Golson’s formative years. Well done, Jim Merod, for telling the story so expertly; well done, Benny Golson, for having lived your story so fully. This is a GREAT BOOK!" —Kenny Barron, The Juilliard School

" Jazz musicians have long known that Benny Golson is not only a marvelous saxophonist and composer but also an eloquent and witty raconteur. Now, with Whisper Not, the world can enjoy his verbal gift as he reminisces about John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Chick Corea, and the many other greats he has counted among his colleagues. As a special bonus—referencing some of his most-recorded workshe even provides some insider tips on composing. This book is a must-read for all music fans and musicians!" Lewis Porter, Pianist and Professor of Music at Rutgers University–Newark

"That 87-year old Benny Golson is a figure of consequence in the music is indisputable. He has form as both player and composer, initially of original pieces that have become jazz standards and, more latterly, as a gilded soundtrack composer for films and TV. So, his is a story worth the telling and long overdue for the telling, you could say.... (H)is three opening chapters recounting his boyhood friendship in Philadelphia with John Coltrane and their emerging interest in the music are fascinating, each youngster's first tentative steps into bandstand activity vividly described, his virtual hero-worship of the young Coltrane quite touching.... Golson (is) often disarmingly frank about his instrumental shortcomings.... Excellent illustrations by the way." —Jazzwise

"(Golson's) account of an extraordinary career beginning in 1940s Philadelphia and ending in recognition as one of the music's most respected and influential composers, arrangers and instrumentalists.... (T)he book does indeed contain numerous nuggets of great good sense on subjects such as ballads...racism...and artistic development.... (I)ts best-written and most interesting account...(is his)...relationship with Coltrane, and fascinatingly details Golson’s growing appreciation of jazz via exposure to the bebop experiments taking place.... Whisper Not is good, it is very good – thoughtful, eloquent, nuanced – and anyone interested in jazz in its heyday will be fascinated and gripped by much of what Golson has to say." —London JazzNews

"An eloquent account of Golson's exceptional life." Susquehanna Life

"(Whisper Not) will entrance the reader with picturesque clarity.... Golson offers...insightful reflections on a host of...jazz luminaries such as Art Blakey, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, and Thelonious Monk." —Downbeat

"The book certainly contains plenty of stories that shed light on the many noteworthy figures from the world of jazz with whom Golson interacted over the decades.... Golson has an appealing storytelling style." —Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) Journal

"It's no surprise that Whisper Not is an engaging tome as its author is one of the most eloquently loquacious musicians ever to grace a bandstand. It triumphs not only as a revealing account of an exceptional life and illuminating addition to jazz biography but also as a very well written literary work.... (W)hile he touches on personal issues, such as love, marriage, fatherhood and religion, it is his life in music that makes the book a most memorable story." New York City Jazz Record

"An honest portrayal of one of the twentieth century's most significant jazz figures, the personality behind the music, with Merod's significant input, is sympathetically revealed, making Whisper Not essential reading for Golson fans. If the book has a message as such, it's that unrelenting dedication to one's art, focus, determination and a willingness to take risks are the cornerstones of success." All About Jazz

"This is not a usual autobiography... The text is clean and readily accessible as a Golson melody and a photo album includes a number of memorable images. Golson is such a positive person, and that is conveyed throughout his graceful telling of his story. This is an important addition to the body of jazz biographies and autobiographies." In a Blue Mood blog

"Whisper Not is deeply complimentary of these and a plethora of jazz greats and personalities who've touched Benny Golson's life... This is a warmly enjoyable, humor-laced jazz memoir that thoroughly eschews any sense of linear approach, and in this case that's not a bad thing." —Open Sky Jazz

Table of Contents

Preface, by Jim Merod


Part I John Coltrane
Chapter 1. One of a Kind: John Coltrane
Chapter 2. John and I Meet Diz and Bird
Chapter 3. John Becomes a Dynamo

Part II The ’Hood and Youthful Reckonings
Chapter 4. Uncle Robert and the Man
Chapter 5. Two Heroes and a Night at Minton's
Chapter 6. Early Tragedies and Victories
Chapter 7. Welfare Days, Hard Times

Part III Great People
Chapter 8. No One Else: Bobbie Hurd
Chapter 9. Moose and Bostic
Chapter 10. Art Blakey's Neophytes and Tadd Dameron's Luck
Chapter 11. Further Adventures with Tadd and an Evening with Louis Armstrong
Chapter 12. The Duel: Clifford Brown and Fats Navarro
Chapter 13. Wonder and Beauty: Betty Carter and Art Farmer
Chapter 14. Genius Squared: Jimmy and Percy Heath
Chapter 15. Unrivaled Aces: Sarah Vaughan and Bill Evans
Chapter 16. Four "Brothers": Mulgrew Miller, Woody Herman, Henry Brant, and George Russell

Part IV Hollywood
Chapter 17. Starting Over
Chapter 18. Gettin' My Mojo Workin'
Chapter 19. M*A*S*H
Chapter 20. Movie Stars Like Jazz, Too

Part V Amazing Friendships
Chapter 21. Quincy Jones
Chapter 22. Sweets and Diz
Chapter 23. Philly Joe Jones
Chapter 24. Monk, Max, and Dinah
Chapter 25. Curtis Fuller and The Jazztet

Part VI Music and Writing
Chapter 26. Writing
Chapter 27. Lessons
Chapter 28. "Stablemates": My First Recorded Song
Chapter 29. "Along Came Betty"
Chapter 30. "I Remember Clifford"
Chapter 31. The Ballad and "Weight"

Part VII Icons
Chapter 32. Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks
Chapter 33. Duke and Strayhorn
Chapter 34. Coleman Hawkins
Chapter 35. Art Blakey and Thelonious Monk
Chapter 36. Blakey and The Jazz Messengers
Chapter 37. Kenny Dorham and Lee Morgan
Chapter 38. Sonny Rollins
Chapter 39. Great Performances: Oscar Pettiford, Ron Carter, Billy Higgins, Billy Taylor, and Walter Davis, Jr.
Chapter 40. Charles Mingus, Benny Goodman, Gigi Gryce, and Horace Silver
Chapter 41. Peggy Lee and Diana Ross
Chapter 42. Milt "Bags" Jackson, Larry Young, Joe Farrell, and Tony Williams
Chapter 43. Wynton Kelly and Chick Corea
Chapter 44. Miles Davis and Geoffrey Keezer
Chapter 45. Mickey Rooney, Redd Foxx, Jersey Joe Walcott, and Muhammad Ali

Part VIII Verses and a Coda
Chapter 46. Notes on Starting Over
Chapter 47. The Blues
Chapter 48. Brielle

Coda: A New Way of Life


About the Author(s)

Benny Golson is an NEA Jazz Master, composer, arranger, and saxophonist. After helping Art Blakey revamp his regime with The Jazz Messengers, he co-founded The Jazztet with trumpeter Art Farmer. He has composed not only jazz standards, including “Killer Joe” and “Along Came Betty,” but also music for films and television, including It Takes a Thief and M*A*S*H.

Jim Merod has recorded a veritable "who's who" of jazz greats under his BluePort Jazz label. He is a Professor of Literature and Humanities at Soka University, who has also taught at Cornell, Brown, Brandeis, Stanford, and UCLA. He is the author of The Political Responsibility of the Critic and the editor of Jazz as a Cultural Archive, a special issue of the journal boundary 2.