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Aaron Goldberg: Exploring the Now

Luke Seabright By

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Aaron Goldberg is a jazz pianist and composer based in New York City. He's released five albums with his trio, featuring Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums. His album The Now, recorded with that same rhythm section and featuring Kurt Rosenwinkel on guitar, was released in 2015 to critical acclaim. As well as being very respected solo artist, Aaron has been a frequent collaborator with many of jazz's greatest names, such as Freddie Hubbard, Wynton Marsalis and Betty Carter to name but a few. He has a long-standing association with saxophonist Joshua Redman with whom he has toured extensively.

All About Jazz: Aaron, thanks so much for being here, how's it going?

Aaron Goldberg: Good, my pleasure, thanks for having me.

AAJ: You've got three concerts at the Sunset coming up, will this be your first time playing there?

AG: No, I've actually been playing on and off at the Sunset for probably fifteen years now.

AAJ: So you know it quite well?

AG: Yeah, it's a little home, a home away from home. It has a unique atmosphere because the audience is literally right in front of the stage, you can reach out and touch them and they can touch the pedals, tinkle on the end of the piano if you're not careful!

AAJ: Do you often come over to Europe to play?

AG: I do yeah, I've been coming more and more, it might be the main touring destination for most American musicians these days.

AAJ: You're doing three nights at the Sunset, you'll be playing with a percussionist, Leon Parker, and a Japanese bassist, Yasushi Nakamura. Have you collaborated with the two of them before?

AG: Yes, I started a collaboration with Leon about two and a half years ago, he's somebody that I played with in the early 90s, when I first moved to New York, and he was a major figure in NYC, he was performing with basically all the best jazz bands in the city, ranging from masters like Kenny Barron and Tom Harrell, to young up and coming people like Brad Mehldau, Josh Redman, Jacky Terrasson. So I kind of grew up listening to him and we played once back in the nineties before he moved to France. I tracked him down a couple of years ago for a concert and he had actually stopped playing jazz, and he still found it magnificent. And now he's back, I kind of helped bring him back to New York.

AAJ: You got him back onto the jazz scene?

AG: Yeah, I can pretty much say that. Of course his musicianship has continued to grow all these years. He was mostly doing body percussion and vocal percussion work which he now brings into the context of the trio as well. So it's a little extra fun that we have [laughs]! We have a nice musical connection and it's a joy to see him rejuvenate his musical interests and his passion.

AAJ: You mentioned the trio, I'm quite curious about that trio setting because it seems like you favour the trio when you record and perform in your own name. Is there something about that setup that really suits your approach to music?

AG: That's a good question. I think that when I was growing up and learning this music, and when I first started to tour with various bands, it was always in a quartet or a quintet setting. One of the main skills you develop in that kind of setting is an accompaniment skill and the ability to make a band really sound good, so you're one of many factors and you learn how to contribute to the overall group sound such that it's more than the sum of its parts. And that's a major musical skill that I think all the greatest pianists in jazz have had, famously people like Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner. They got their start playing, even before Miles and Coltrane, with other bands, so I think you learn so much from those kinds of gigs. I'm so glad that I had a chance to work like that for the majority of my career. At the same time, I was always aware that to lead a band is a different kind of skill set, and to put the piano in the leading role, the trio is consistently the best opportunity. There's a lot of classic trios in jazz. I of course grew up listening to those as well. But it was more a matter of wanting to see what I could come up with as far as a group sound without another horn or another melodic instrument involved. I wanted to just put myself in that role. And over time, in an organic fashion, I developed my own sort of philosophy and aesthetic of how to play trio, and what kind of trio playing I really enjoyed. Because there's many many different ways to work a piano/bass/drums trio. For me it's a lot about the relationship between piano and drums. It's interesting to embark on a new kind of relationship, a new piano/drum relationship with Leon.

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