While in high school in Philadelphia, Golson played with several other promising young musicians, including John Coltrane, Red Garland, Jimmy Heath, Percy Heath, "Philly" Joe Jones, and Red Rodney. After graduating from Howard University Golson joined Bull Moose Jackson's rhythm and blues band; Tadd Dameron, whom Golson came to consider the most important influence on his writing, was Jackson's pianist at the time.
From 1953 to 1959 Golson played with Dameron's band and then with the bands of Lionel Hampton, Johnny Hodges, Earl Bostic, Dizzy Gillespie, and Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers.
In 1956 when he learned that Clifford Brown had died in a car accident, Golson composed "I Remember Clifford" as a tribute. Golson has composed several jazz standards, such as "Stablemates", "Killer Joe", "Whisper Not", "Along Came Betty" and "Are You Real?", that have gone on to be performed and recorded by many musicians.
From 1959 to 1962 Golson co-led the Jazztet with Art Farmer. Golson then left jazz to concentrate on studio and orchestral work for 12 years. During this time he composed music for such television shows as Ironside, Room 222, M*A*S*H, and Mission: Impossible. During the mid-1970s Golson returned to jazz playing and recording. In 1983 he re-organized the Jazztet.
In 1995 Golson received the NEA Jazz Masters Award of the National Endowment for the Arts. In October 2007 he received the Mellon Living Legend Legacy Award as well as the University of Pittsburgh International Academy of Jazz Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award. In November 2009, Benny was inducted into the International Academy of Jazz Hall of Fame.
- 3 Vocals
- 400 Instruments & Performance
- 1265 Writing & Arrangement
- 5 Featuring & Presenting
- 74 Conducting & Leading
- 30 Production
- 2 Visual
- 19 Acting, Literary & Spoken