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Larry Goldings: Versatility of Keyboards... And Music

R.J. DeLuke By

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"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?

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