While in high school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 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'srhythm 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, andArt Blakey and the Jazz Messengers with whom he recorded the classic Moanin' in 1958.
Golson was working with the Lionel Hampton band at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in 1956 when he learned that Clifford Brown, a noted and well-liked jazz trumpeter who had done a stint with him in Hampton's band, had died in a car accident. Golson was so moved by the event that he composed the threnody "I Remember Clifford", as a tribute to a fellow musician and friend.
Golson has composed several other 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.[