Ben Goldberg: Clarinet Communion
BG: Oh yeah, I was terribly nervous. I'd already written him a letter telling him he was my hero! I was nervous to ask him, and plus he told me no! Finally, I asked him again, and he said, "Okay, come on over." Yeah, it was scary, but it changed my life. That one meeting changed my whole life.
AAJ: What was it that drew you to him in the first place? Was it the sound, the conception?
BG: The sound! And his way of phrasing. That just killed me. Because after all I had ever listened toCharlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Art Pepperwhen I heard Steve Lacy it sounded kind of backwards. It was backwards, but it made so much sense. So it just grabbed me, like I couldn't figure out what was going on. Plus that sound. Plus, the first record of his that I ever bought was that one called Evidence (OJC, 1961).
You gotta check that record out. For one thing, it's got tunes, a couple of Monk tunes and a couple of Ellington's. And it's got Don Cherry and Billy Higgins. Then, somehow, it's also extremely well recorded. Especially Lacythe sound they got on that recordhis saxophone is so delicious, it's all you ever want to hear. That was the record that just blew my mind. So when I got the chance to get together with him, he just gave me all this stuff to work on, and it kept me busy for ten years.
AAJ: Have you finally completed it then?
BG: I think I completed the course in a certain way. I still go back to it, but at this point it's more in the background or the foundation.
AAJ: So, what were the things that you really wound up learning?
BG: Well, there are two aspects to it. One was something that I'd already been introduced to by my clarinet teacher, and that was that you can really find a whole new way of taking music apartof finding the fundamental building blocks, and then studying those. That's really a revelation. Not everyone gets to that place, and [Steve] showed me the way he had done that. As far as the larger lesson, that was finding my own way of finding what are those building blocks and finding a way to actually work on that.
AAJ: Do you think different people in their conception of music identify different building blocks which have a personal impact to them?
BG: If you're really talking about that, then I think you have to realize that they've got to be the same. Otherwise they're not building blocks, there's something beneath that. If you do your research, you're going to get down to something. It's not that you're going to experience it the same way as someone else. What I learned from [Steve] is that you want your style, the way you play or the way you write, to be the thing that you can't decide about.
If you're really contemplating the building blocks of it, then it's all going to come together in a personal way, despite what you might want and what you might think. It's like if I give the same box of crayons to 50 childrenthey're all going to take the same crayons and make something that's completely unique. That's just the way it works. You're a different person than I am, your perception is different from mine, and the way that you hear things, whether you understand how they're put together, that's going to be your thing. If you're getting down to the fundamentals of it and you're actually dealing with the lowest common denominator, then whatever reveals itself to you, that's going to be the real thing.
AAJ: How much weight do you give instrumentation when you're putting together a project or a set of compositions?
BG: It's really more a matter of the person, more a matter of who they are, not what they're playing. Obviously that comes into it. When I play with Carla Kihlstedt, that's who I want to play with. If she played the tuba, I probably would want to play with her.
BG: I think so. The kind of musical situations that I'm putting togetheryou've got to have the right people. It all depends on thattrust, understanding, intuitionand it depends on what areas you have in common with people. It's like, who do you want to invite over to your house to hang out with? You know who it is because you feel comfortable with them.
AAJ: How did you get involved with Tin Hat, which started out as the Tin Hat Trio?
BG: I've been friends with those guys for a long time. Rob Burger, the accordion player, left the band, so Mark Orton and Carla Kihlsted decided to invite me to join them, along with a fourth person, which is more of a rotating chair at this point.
AAJ: There's such an interesting blend of folk music, jazz, rockeverything seems to be going on in there.
BG: Everything's going on, yeah, and they're such amazing musicians. They have a beautiful dedication to composition and song form.