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Aaron Goldberg: Growing as a Band Leader

By Published: August 7, 2007

AG: In addition to being the spokesperson for jazz music, an amazing salesman for jazz music and someone who loves jazz more than anyone else, a great politician, a great sociologist and a brilliant man, he also happens to be one of the most innovative trumpet players in terms of his musical vocabulary and his ability to play the instrument, which is something that people forget because he is such a polemicist and he has musical projects that not everybody agrees with. People forget what a total master of his instrument he is, what a total master of the improvisational language of jazz he is, and how unique he is and how instantaneously recognizable he is.

Aaron Goldberg with Wynton Marsalis

AAJ: What did you learn from him?

AG: I learned not only the stuff that I expected to learn—which was music of the '30s and the '40s and some history—but I also just soaked up a certain amount of mastery and was inspired on a nightly basis just listening to him improvise. I hope to attain a similar control over my instrument, mastery of the idiom and individual language that he speaks. His particular idiom, his particular dialect of the jazz language, his particular voice is very, very unique in a way that I think most people do not understand and do not appreciate.

AAJ: What was the biggest challenge playing with Wynton?

AG: The biggest challenge was accompanying him. He has very high standards for pianists in general. The piano chair in his band is one that revolves constantly because he is never satisfied with any pianist. In my opinion he has not been fully satisfied with a pianist since Marcus Roberts, so every pianist that has followed in the footsteps of Marcus Roberts has struggled with the fact that Wynton has never really been satisfied.

I think that's in part because of Marcus Roberts' own mastery and skill as an accompanist in particular and his control of the whole history of jazz music, but also the fact that Marcus really studied Wynton's playing deeply for years before he joined the band He knew all the records and basically he could predict everything Wynton was going to do and he knew Wynton's playing inside and out much better that anyone that followed him. He was able to really get inside of Wynton the improviser with his accompaniment in a way that nobody else has been able to. It was a challenge for me to try to figure what he wanted, to try to figure how to be myself and give him what he needed and wanted and what the music deserved, what the music asked for. I don't know if I met the challenge or not. I did my best.

Of course the other challenge was playing with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and learning all these styles but in a way that's where I expected the challenge would be. I didn't expect the other challenge—I thought that the quartet music and accompanying Wynton was going to be the easy part and the hard part was going to be learning all the stylistic stuff, but the challenge of accompanying Wynton was actually even a greater challenge.

AAJ: In 1999 you released your first album, Turning Point (J Curve); two years later Unfolding (J Curve) comes out and now you have Worlds. What's the main connection between these works?

AG: The most obvious connection is the band. Reuben [Rogers] and Eric [Harland] have been recording with me since the beginning, so we have grown a lot both as individuals and as a band over the course of those seven years. There is a certain connection in the sense that all those albums, conceptually, are focused on my original music spiced by my approach to the standards repertory, trying to show that, in fact, those worlds are the same, they are one.

In fact, there is really no distinction between my music and the so-called standards music. I hope that the records feel that way. This last record is more different because it has a little bit more of a conceptual focus and also the trio itself has reached a higher level where we have a singular artistic voice. It doesn't feel like me and Reuben and Eric, it just feels like our music.

AAJ: What about your first and second records?

AG: I actually like the first record. There are a lot of great things about it, considering I was so young and it was my first record. My voice was not as developed but it has a good feeling and as individuals everyone plays great. I still love the songs. The second record I feel like I wish I had put more time into the preparation aspect of it. It's really different to make a trio record then to make a quintet with Mark [Turner] and Joshua [Redman] and I think that the trio hadn't developed to the place where it's at now. It was good that I took a few years in-between Unfolding and Worlds, just to allow the trio to develop.

AAJ: There is a clear Brazilian influence on Worlds, through songs like "Lambada de Serpente, "Modinha, "Salvador and "Inútil paisagem. What's the story behind this passion for Brazil?

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