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Ben Goldberg: Clarinet Communion

By Published: March 30, 2010

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.

AAJ: So it's fair to say you compose more for the people than for the instruments?

BG: I think so. The kind of musical situations that I'm putting together—you've got to have the right people. It all depends on that—trust, understanding, intuition—and 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, rock—everything 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.

AAJ: That band also got you playing more contra-alto clarinet. Had you played that much beforehand?

Tin Hat, from left: Ben Goldberg, Carla Kihlstedt, Mark Orton, Ara Anderson

BG: Not so much; I was thinking of it as of a novelty when I started playing with Tin Hat, and then I started realizing what you can do with it. I'm playing it with Myra's group now and others, so I've started to find what the voice of that instrument is.

AAJ: There aren't too many contra-alto soloists out there.

BG: No, I don't think so. I've nearly got the market cornered. [Laughs.] It's more flexible than the contrabass, so it's more fun to play, but it's definitely has those low notes that have that amazing sound, like the contrabass. It's perfect for me.

AAJ: Do you find that you have a distinct voice apart from the contra-alto to the regular B flat clarinet?

BG: There wouldn't be any way not to. It's just such a different sound, a different voice. There's barely an overlap.

AAJ: What brands of clarinet do you play?

BG: For the B flat, the Buffet. And the contra-alto is a LeBlanc, what they call a "paperclip."

AAJ: Did you play bass clarinet for a time?

BG: Yeah, I did. In the New Klezmer Trio, I played a lot of bass. But the funny thing for me is that since I started playing the contra-alto, I really don't play it anymore.

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