Aaron Goldberg: Growing as a Band Leader
AAJ: If you had to point the most important or most influential pianist in the whole history of jazzthe most important, most innovative, most influentialwho would you name?
AG: Most important you probably would have to say Duke Ellington followed by Monk. If you want to say most innovative you might have to say Art Tatum, Monk would be on that list too, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Bud Powell.
Most influential? I mean all those guys were influential. I think Herbie has had a huge influence on everybody that followed him. On the younger generation of pianists my age Mulgrew Miller had a big influence, quietly, without getting a lot of limelight. He is a musician's musician and we all love him and respect him so much, and he is a consummate accompanist and soloist, he has his own sound. Can't say enough good things about Mulgrew.
On the generation younger than me I hear Brad [Mehldau] having a big influence on people, and I love and respect Brad so I am happy with that too. I think in general it's dangerous when one person starts to affect too many young musicians, precisely because it's impossible to become has great as Herbie Hancock if you are trying to sound like Herbie Hancock; it's impossible to become as great as Brad Mehldau if you are trying to sound like Brad; it's impossible to become has great as Art Tatum if you are trying to sound like Art Tatum. At a certain point you have to study the music and then you have to try to find your own voice because that's the only chance you have in becoming great yourself. So you have to look inward as well as outward.
AAJ: Where do you want to be musically ten years from now?
AG: I spent a lot of time playing as a sideman with a lot of great musicians and I learned a huge amount from that. I would like to continue to do that, but I also would like to grow as a bandleader. Every time I play a gig with my trio or any other trio as a co-leader I feel like I learn something about myself and I always have something to work on and that's the great challenge, to raise the level of my playing as a leader to the level of my playing as a sideman. Also that would motivate me to write more music.
AAJ: Last night the audience at the Hot Clube de Portugal was absolutely thrilled with your music. Is it something that happens everywhere you play or it depends on the audience?
AG: Recently I feel like every time I play a trio gig people are happy, which is very encouraging in the sense that we are doing something that moves people and that's part of why we are out here and also it's encouraging because I feel we are getting better. This band with Ali [Jackson] and Omer [Avital] and I has a certain kind of magic that comes from our long friendship and the fact that those guys are great musicians with very strong personalities and we have a lot of fun and people can hear that we're having fun and they respond to that. The same is true with the other trio with Reuben [Rogers] and Eric [Harland]. We love each other, we go back a long, long way and we respect each other and try to give each musician equal space. I'm not interested in having a trio with sideman; I'm interested in pursuing musical projects where everyone is an equal. So I think the answer is: fortunately yes!
AAJ: Do you find any difference between audiences in the States and in Europe?
AG: Every country in Europe has a different feeling and the venue has a huge effect. I think even more important than the country is the feeling of the venue, some are cold, some are the opposite, like the Hot Club [de Portugal]: just walking in there feels good, creates a certain energy, you can feel the audience very strongly.
It's true in the States too, there are certain venues where you know you're gonna have a good concert, you can feel the audience. The sound on the stage makes a big difference, even more than national differences. But that being said, Japanese audiences have their particular feelingthey respond in a particular wayNew York audiences tend to be the most discerning in a certain sense, when it's good they know it's good and they respond; when it's not they know it's not and they don't respond. In a certain way it's like playing for an audience of your peers, the musicians are always the harshest critics.