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Benny Golson: Old School

Benny Golson celebrating his 80th birthday with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra at Washington, DC's Kennedy Center; Jan. 24, 2009
Benny Golson celebrating his 80th birthday with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra at Washington, DC's Kennedy Center; Jan. 24, 2009

Leave it to old friends to dredge up stories from the past at a birthday party. Of course, not everyone gets to celebrate on the stage of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and even fewer have the opportunity to be embarrassed by a surprise visit from Bill Cosby.

But Benny Golson began his storied eight decades in Philadelphia, as did the slightly younger Cosby, who happened to be performing on another of the Kennedy Center’s stages on the January night that Golson was being honored. The comedian began by surveying the saxophonists in the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra regarding the size of their reeds. After hearing a few replies in the three to four range, Cosby countered with Golson’s youthful claim of using an eight. “That’s not a reed,” Cosby recalls telling the nascent tenorist, “that’s a floorboard.”

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