Aaron Goldberg: Growing as a Band Leader

Joao Moreira dos Santos By

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Jazz is not about copying stuff that came before you. It
Aaron Goldberg >Listening to <em>Worlds</em> (Sunnyside, 2006) makes one want to talk to the man behind the music. That's why AAJ contributor João Moreira dos Santos decided to meet Aaron Goldberg at the Hot Clube de Portugal, in Lisbon, determined to both find out more about this talented young pianist/composer/arranger and to hear his music live. His show drove the audience crazy, particularly aspiring young jazzmen, who reacted instantaneously to the song Worlds. Here, then, is the man and his music.

All About Jazz: What was it like growing up in Boston as a musician, has it helped?

Aaron Goldberg: Boston has a good jazz scene because of all the schools. Lots of young people come to Boston to learn how to play and basically it's a city of jazz pedagogy (we have Berklee and the New England Conservatory), and there are a lot of teachers who teach privately around Boston that also teach at Berklee, like Jerry Bergonzi, who I studied with. Some people move to Boston in order to teach and they also play around Boston in all the clubs. The club scene is pretty happening.

There are also people who move to Boston to study and obviously they never leave. There's a large contingent of people who come to Berklee from places like Portugal, and then they go back. Then there is another large contingent that comes to Boston from places like Portugal and move to New York. And then there is yet the third contingent of people that move to Boston to study and then stay. There are a lot of musicians in Boston. There aren't necessarily that many places to play, considering the huge number of musicians.

AAJ: Why is that?

AG: Boston suffers from the fact that most often the best and most ambitious musicians move to New York. The number of musicians is extremely high and the level of musicianship is extremely high compared to other places in the States, but not compared to New York.

There are two top-tier jazz clubs—Scullers and the Regattabar. They both had great artists coming to town when I was growing up so I was able to sneak in. I was too young to really get in legally, but I had some friends who worked at the door of the Regattabar. Actually, a good friend of mine, who subsequently got married to Ravi Coltrane used to work at the door of the Regattabar. I was sixteen and I would go there with my high school friends and she would sneak us into the corner. I remember sitting next to Tommy Flanagan and Kenny Barron, hearing all the greatest pianists. I was just a kid in the corner. They wouldn't serve many drinks but they let me in.

AAJ: So what you are saying is that growing up in Boston affected your attraction to jazz.

AG: I think if I hadn't grown up in a city with a sizable jazz scene I wouldn't have been fortunate enough to hear all those great musicians at such a young age and stay inspired. Also I never would have discovered jazz if I hadn't gone to my high school, because there was a guy who studied at Berklee, Bob Sinicrope, who was a math teacher at my high school and then started to teach jazz classes. I feel it is a great stroke of luck that I am playing music for a living and, if circumstances had been different, I might may be doing something completely different.

AAJ: You started studying piano when you were seven years old. What kind of piano?

AG: Classical piano.

AAJ: You weren't thinking about jazz by then?

AG: I didn't know anything about jazz, I had never heard a note of jazz. My parents liked classical music and they had a piano in the house. They both played piano when they were kids. The piano actually belonged to my grandmother, and my father played on and then when my mother's parents died they got their piano. Studying piano was just something like a little family tradition for two generations.

AAJ: And I guess you weren't certainly thinking about becoming a professional jazz musician.

AG: I know that my parents never imagined in their wildest nightmares or dreams that I would become a professional musician and I think it was just one of many things that I was interested in when I was a kid and one of many things that they were interested in me pursuing when I was a kid: sports and music and all the things that a lot of kids do.

AAJ: Were you a disciplined piano student?

AG: I was a good piano student but I certainly wasn't passionate about it. I practiced, my parents told me to practice, and that was the right thing to do. I think that I liked the feeling of accomplishment that came with learning pieces. At some level I think I appreciated the music but I surely didn't understand the classical music that I was learning when I was eleven or thirteen years-old. I didn't understand how songs were written, I didn't understand the relationship between symphonies and sonatas, I really didn't know anything about classical music but I knew how to translate dots on the page into sounds. That was a skill that I had acquired. It wasn't until I studied jazz in high school that the whole world of music opened up to me and I started to feel an emotional connection to the music I was playing.

AAJ: In Portugal we don't have jazz classes in high school. How does it work in the USA?


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