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Aaron Goldberg: Growing as a Band Leader

By Published: August 7, 2007
She didn't teach me anything technical, she didn't teach technical aspects of music; she just showed you how it was done and she encouraged you to perform at your best, to push you beyond what you are capable of, to help you to explore new places in the music. She did that in part for you and because she was generous and because she saw you as the future of the music and she also did it because that's what she liked to hear: she liked to hear young people going for it. And I think she also liked to be around young men; it kept her fresh and excited.

AAJ: What exactly was her Jazz Ahead Program?

AG: It was basically an opportunity for her to do this on a large scale, and to present young musicians to her audience. She knew she wasn't going to be around for too much longer and she knew that we had to carry on the music which meant first, that we had to learn as much as we could from people like her and, second, that her audience had to be introduced to us so that they would follow us when she was gone. It also served the great function of introducing a large body of young musicians from all over the country to each other. The very first Jazz Ahead we did featured Brian Blade, Gregory Hutchinson, Eric Harland, Alvester Garnett, Cyrus Chestnut, Jacky Terrasson, me, Marcus Printup, Mark Shim...

AAJ: After college you moved to New York. How did you get to meet the musicians you ended up playing with, like Al Foster?

AG: First I had a passage into the scene through all the musicians I already knew and I had the good fortune of meeting a good saxophonist, named Greg Tardy, who had just gotten a record deal at Impulse!. I joined his band and I recorded with him and through Greg I got introduced to a lot of people on the scene that I didn't know. I hardly knew Mark Turner and I had met Joshua Redman casually.

I guess through Mark Turner I met another large contingent of musicians and I think Joshua heard about me because I was playing in Mark's band. We kept running into each other and saying we should play sometime but years and years went by and finally I got a call from him, he came to my house, we did a little jam-session with Reuben Rogers and then a few weeks after that I got a call from him to sub for Brad Mehldau on his tour and I did a couple of gigs that Brad couldn't do. Then that tour ended and Josh put together a new band and invited me to join the band.

After that I spent some time with Al Foster. I met Al at the Hot Clube, I was playing there with John Ellis and Al happened to be playing in town and he came by the Hot Clube and he took my number and he asked me to join his band soon after that. Then I served time with Kurt Rosenwinkel's band. Basically I have had the good fortune to be on the road most of the time since 1997/1998.

AAJ: You worked with Wynton Marsalis in 2005. How did you meet him?

AG: I basically met Wynton playing basketball. I was in Australia playing with Joshua Redman and Wynton was on tour with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and we had a big basketball game. Ali Jackson has known Wynton since he was a young child and he wasn't playing with Wynton's band but they would do occasional gigs together. At that point I was playing with Ali at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola, which is the new club at Lincoln Center, so Wynton started to come down and play with us and after a few weeks he took me aside and said "Look I have some gigs... Eric Lewis is leaving the band I wonder if you want do them? I said yes, please, and for six/seven months I played with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and I played in Wynton's Quartet.

AAJ: Sounds quite challenging but also demanding...

AG: It was a crazy six/seven months playing two gigs which were both very intense and very demanding. Completely different styles. It was a good experience to try to do both but practically speaking it was just impossible. To play Wynton's music well you have to devote your entire musical energy to his projects. The music that we were playing with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra ranged from the music of the Paul Whiteman Band, George Gershwin, music from the '20s and the '30s, Jelly Roll Morton music, stride piano, through swing, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, through music of the '40s, through bebop, through modal music, Coltrane, through hard bop, through Ornette Coleman music, free music, into Wynton's own music of the '0s and '90s.

I mean, eighty-to-ninety years of music. Plus he has forty-five albums of music he wants you to learn to play in the quartet. I would love to play with him again in the future when I have more time.

AAJ: How would you describe Wynton Marsalis?

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