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Larry Goldings: Versatility of Keyboards... And Music

R.J. DeLuke By

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Eventually Maceo Parker heard me and hired me in his band, and that's when I really started getting experience on the Hammond organ. I literally learned on the gig.
Pianist/organist Larry Goldings is a player whose name has turned up more and more over the years on projects with some of the top names in the music business. His own projects, largely his organ trio, have always been artistic successes.

He continues to stretch, exploring opportunities to grow and explore his varied music interests. He's still being called by top-flight musicians to join a tour, or a recording session, and at the same time Goldings keeps his fine trio working. His reputation is the result of a long road of studying, working jam sessions, and getting involved with great professionals at a relatively young age.

He has developed as one of the more skilled players, but isn't just a technician. He approaches music with an open mind and an affinity to look at things in different ways, with equal parts freedom and tradition, as can be witnessed in his latest CD, Quartet, a departure from the organ trio setting. The 11th record under his own name, it's a sharp disc on which some outstanding and varied musical minds develop a synergy that carries the day. There are different feels through the 12 offerings, and all of them carried out in fine fashion.

The recording starts out with Goldings on piano, ("Singsong") laying out a simple melody that the band carries in a loose, yet structured fashion. The trumpet of New York City veteran trumpeter John Sneider is melodic and uncluttered. Matt Wilson's drums create the right underpinning and Ben Allison's bass is weaves in; unhurried and strong. "Au Bord De L'Eau is an interesting, moving jazz line giving Goldings room to express his fondness for melody and harmony. It swings. And the CD goes on from there, with splashes from Goldings' pen, and plenty of contributions from the others. They take on Monk and Bjork in the process. And the old "Hesitation Blues, with the delightful Madeleine Peyroux —herself a breath of fresh air on the current music scene—is deliciously cool. Sneider's trumpet fills are on the mark and Geldings' organ is expressive. It holds interest throughout.

Goldings is pleased with the CD, and glad to be taking music in a directions away from his organ trio—with Peter Bernstein on guitar and Bill Stewart on drums—which itself has provided some fine music for over a decade, particularly The Intimacy of the Blues (Verve, 1991) and Sweet Science (Palmetto, 2002).

He's known for his work on the Hammond B3, an instrument that was rejuvenated a decade or so ago and is being put to good use by several players nowadays. It has perhaps surpassed his notoriety as a fine pianist (though that may be changing, as his opportunities on the acoustic instrument grow). But the Boston-area native fell into it the instrument slowly, even unintentionally, after leaving music school in the late 1980s.

"Around 1988 or 89, I started playing a portable version. I never really had experience at that time with a real Hammond B3. But I was interested in organ-type of keyboards. I started the group with Pete and Bill probably around '89 or '90.

"As a kid when I was first getting into jazz, I tended to play baselines on the piano. Somehow I gravitated toward that. Probably because I had a love for a pianist by the name of David McKenna from the New England area, says Goldings. "His approach was always with a walking baseline. That's how I approached it. I think there was a connection between that and actually wanting to walk baseline on the organ. I was pretty good at it. It had pretty good independence in that way. I like the control factor or something.

He says among the records he enjoyed growing up were Billy Preston and Aretha Franklin R&B, and Wes Montgomery with organ legend Jimmy Smith. He continued to play the instrument, and "eventually Maceo Parker (a stalwart of soul legend James Brown's horn section) heard me and hired me in his band, and that's when I really started getting experience on the Hammond organ. I literally learned on the gig. Then through Maceo's producer, I made my first record (Intimacy of the Blues). Ironically, at least to me at the time, it was an organ record, even though I barely knew it. That kind of got me on the map as an organ player. It was totally not my intention, but that's sort of how it happened.

His organ trio became very well established in the 1990s, and is one Goldings is not going to drop any time soon. "It was, and still is, the truest group of mine; the most comfortable group situation I've ever been in, he says.

Goldings grew up listening to pop music of the 1970s, but seemed to always have a fondness and feel for interesting harmonies. That is still quite evident today.

"I was listening to Billy Joel. I learned a lot about harmony by trying to learn Billy Joel songs by ear. That was the beginning of it, in a way. Things that were a little more harmonically challenging. It was probably people like Steely Dan and Billy Joel that led me to jazz, because of the harmonic aspect of it and the more crafted-song type of writers. That led me to standards, American popular songs and things like that.

The first jazz artists that influenced him were Oscar Peterson and McKenna. "Then somebody gave me a Miles record with either Wynton Kelly or Red Garland. That stuff was really the beginning. I was also listening to a lot of fusion early on, which now I don't. But there was a more harmonic thing going on that I liked.

Goldings says once he got farther advanced, he had to go back and fill in the "holes in my listening, digging Monk, and the works of other jazz musicians recommended to him by teachers and colleagues. Among his early teachers were Ran Blake and Keith Jarrett. In 1986, he left the Boston area to enroll in the New School for Social Research in New York City, which was in its infancy.

"By the time I got to New York and college to go to the New School, I was definitely more of a purist, into bebop, says the keyboardist. "Along the way I've become eclectic in my taste. A lot of world music. classical music, primarily because of just loving harmonies and the way so many classical composers develop ideas and stuff. To me it's all the same. It applies to jazz, it applies to the craft of trying to build on an idea and expand on it.

"At the time it was both great and frustrating because it was a totally new program, he says. Some students may have wanted more formal structure in those years, but the way it developed was fine for Goldings. "I was literally in the first graduating class. There was a good deal of chaos when I was there. Very unstructured. Arnie Lawrence started it. He was a great guy. Not experienced in the organized curriculum approach. That was why it was such a refreshing school. He had his street-smart way of approaching things, but they didn't have the balance together between that and the more legit.

"For me, looking back it was great. You'd be in a class and Arnie would bring in Art Blakey. The door would open and he'd say, 'The rest of the day is devoted to Art Blakey.' Then Art Blakey would come and tell stories and play and usually I would get to play with him, and a few others. It was just fantastic. Also, Arnie Lawrence really took me under his wing. He was responsible for getting me a gig at the Village Gate as the house pianist for a jam session there every Sunday. That led me into the scene, knowing musicians and people getting to know me. He would always choose me to play with the guests that would come through the school.

Jim Hall was among those who taught there and ended up hiring Goldings. "Nothing but great things came out of it, though I kind of feel sorry for other kids who were there at the time who weren't really ready for that kind of approach and needed a bit more structure. But it was great.

"And it was New York, when there were more clubs, and you could get into Bradley's (once a renowned piano bar). You could drop in and see a who's who of jazz piano. I could probably name 10 people who have passed or who don't play anymore who were still at the top of their game then. It was the end of an era. I caught a great glimpse of it. As a kid who had just moved to New York it was ridiculous. You could still hear Tommy Flanagan and Roland Hanna. All these guys were approachable people. A lot of them came through the school and I met them there.

He met a lot of the younger generation of jazz musicians through the Village Gate exposure, and the club ended up hiring him to play in the evening. "I started working pretty quickly and learning by doing that and growing at a fast pace, he says.

He was also asked to tour on with jazz singing legend Jon Hendricks, a collaboration lasting almost three years. A regular gig at Augie's became a place where he worked out on the organ, which led to gigs, and eventually the start of his trio. His link-up with Maceo Parker provided Goldings a chance to explore his love of funk music, as well as gain him plenty of exposure. He went on to play with people like John Scofield, Michael Brecker, Pat Metheny, and even James Taylor.

Things continue to grow for Goldings. His organ trio is still cooking, and he tours with Madeleine Peyroux regularly. He gigs as a sideman with some of New York's other fine musicians and records with them. This year, he's on the road with Scofield again, this time with Jack DeJohnette on drums in a band called Trio Beyond.

"I'm still playing a lot of creative music and making a living at it, so I can't complain, he says.

Goldings had this to say to All About Jazz about his new recording:

All About Jazz: The new CD is called just Quartet. Why is that?

Larry Goldings: It comes out Jan. 24... Usually I try to find a tune on the CD that seems to some how sum up the idea behind the record. But this time, I think the thing that sets it apart most from my other records is that it's not my organ trio. All my records have been with my organ trio with Peter Bernstein and Bill Stewart. I thought this would be the most direct way to set it apart.

I'm playing a lot more piano on it, rather than just organ. I wanted to make that clear from the start, in a way. That was only after weeks of trying to get a decent title. But it seemed to the point. I never really thought too much of the significance of titles.

AAJ: You've played with (drummer) Matt Wilson, but why this group. Why (bassist) Ben Allison, John Sneider (trumpet) and Madeleine Peyroux?
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