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Aaron Goldberg: Growing as a Band Leader

By Published: August 7, 2007

AG: In fact in the States it's very much the same. Again, it was just a stroke of luck. If you look at the ranks of professional jazz musicians in the United States, the Americans that went on to become professionals at high level, about 75 to 80 percent of them all came from the same fifteen or twenty high schools around the country, and those were the high schools with the strong jazz programs. The majority of high schools don't have jazz programs at all; they may have a little bit of music instruction but it's usually something like a concert band or maybe a small orchestra. The number of schools that have jazz program is very small and the number of schools with excellent teachers is just a handful in the entire country and consistently these high schools produce top level professional jazz musicians.

All my friends went to the same high schools in Houston, Saint Louis, Seattle, Berkeley, Los Angeles, New York City, Miami, Chicago or Boston. There is a tradition at those high schools where the younger students look up to these older students who then go on to make CDs and become famous and so they know it's possible to do that. Eric Harland and Robert Glasper both went to the same high school in Houston. I'm giving lessons to a drummer from Houston, who went to that same high school as Eric, and there is a tradition of drummers that go to that high school and they all become professional musicians and talk to each other and learn from each other. I asked him: "Why there are so many good players from this school? I expected him to say because there is a great teacher but really the answer was because there is a good teacher but also the tradition of musicians teaching each other.

AAJ: What is the role of Bob Sinicrope in teaching jazz at your high school?

AG: Bob Sinicrope is one of the greatest jazz teachers I have ever met. He just won an award from IAJE [International Association for Jazz Education]—the John LaPorta Jazz Educator of the Year Award—and I was so ecstatic about it because he really deserves some recognition for his hard work. His efforts have gone into teaching students to love jazz, not to become professional musicians because most of the students that go to my high school go on to become doctors and lawyers, urban professionals of all kinds.

AAJ: You were the lucky exception.

AG: I was the exception not necessarily because I was better—in fact of the musicians that I started to study jazz with I was by far the least experienced and in some ways the most hopeless—but I just fell in love with the music, maybe more deeply than some other people did, and I had the courage to take an alternate career path from some of my friends who I am sure would have loved to continue to study music, but it wasn't really in the realm of possibility. For me, I forced it into the realm of possibility.

Aaron Goldberg ><strong>AAJ:</strong> What were you listening to in high school?<br /><br /><P><strong>AG:</strong> The first notes of jazz I heard were because Bob Sinicrope made me a mixed tape of all his favorite music that he considered most important for us to know at that early age. So we heard <em>Kind of Blue</em> (Columbia, 1959), <em>Milestones</em> (Columbia, 1958), <em>'Round About Midnight</em> (Columbia, 1955), all those early Miles albums. We heard a few Charlie Parker things and John Coltrane things, some Horace Silver—stuff that he considered to be important but also accessible to kids who didn't know anything about jazz.<br /><br /><P><br /><br />The first songs we learned were songs from those albums and he was smart enough to realize that the most important thing for a kid who wants to learn jazz is just to listen to jazz all the time because we grow up listening to bad pop music and you need to fill your brain with good sounds. You need to hear a language in order to speak a language. He just encouraged us to listen, listen, listen and I fell in love with the music so it didn't feel like work to listen to the music; I just listened all the time.<br /><br /><P><strong>AAJ:</strong> That brings us to the inevitable question of which piano players have influenced you.<br /><br /><P><strong>AG:</strong> The first pianists I loved were Wynton Kelly, Red Garland, Sonny Clark and Tommy Flanagan. I remember falling in love with Kenny Barron and then I discovered Mulgrew Miller. Around the same time I started to discover Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea. I went through a period of time when I really wanted to sound like Kenny Barron, I went through a period of time when I really wanted to sound like Herbie Hancock and I went through a period of time when I really wanted to sound like Mulgrew Miller.<br /><br /><P>
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