Stu Goldberg: Amazing Dedication

Walter Kolosky By

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You never know where the trip will take you. One day you are a teenaged musician sharing the stage with the greatest jazz and rock players in the world. Another day, thirty years later, you are comfortably ensconced in your own recording studio laying down tracks for the hit TV series The Amazing Race.

Jazz pianist and composer Stu Goldberg is a long way from his jazz-fusion-pioneering days of the 1970s. There are no more European, North American and South American tours with the likes of John McLaughlin, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Billy Cobham or Jack Bruce. Those were the days when nothing seemed impossible and Goldberg was having the time of his life learning about music and eating up the culture that surrounded him during his many travels. Certainly, these are moments that Goldberg cherishes. But time passes and needs change. It becomes time to settle down and raise a family. Yet, music stays your constant partner.

The fusion whirlwind came early for Goldberg. George Duke saw him one night at a concert in Utah. Duke was so taken by Goldberg's performance that he put in a good word with his friend John McLaughlin. The next thing you know a shell-shocked Goldberg, who was now living in Santa Monica, was on his way to New York to join McLaughlin's third incarnation of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. The 19-year old Goldberg would soon find himself smack dab in the middle of the Fusion Revolution. His soaring playing and inventiveness would put him among the top of the food chain.

After his success with McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Band, Al DiMeola, Larry Coryell, Alphonse Mouzon and others, the early synthesizer star decided to focus on acoustic music and had a career in Europe. He recorded ten solo records during that time. Eventually Goldberg, who was raised in Seattle, Washington, moved back to L.A. and became involved in the session scene. He learned a great deal from this session work and eventually began writing music for television and the movies. In fact, his dedication to this side of music has taken him off the road since 1984.

Goldberg's state-of-the-art recording studio, where he prepares his own music and produces others', sits perched on the side of a British Columbia hill overlooking the world below him. As he sat in his producer's chair, doing what he loves to do everyday, he spoke to AAJ.

All About Jazz: Since you are scoring The Amazing Race , you must know who wins.

Stu Goldberg: [laughs] Of course, depending upon which episode I am scoring. In the first season I really knew. It is pretty much library at the moment. There is so much time pressure that the producer just pretty much takes pieces from the sound library. Nowadays I create music for special episodes or needs.

AAJ: You are playing this music you composed as well.

SG: Oh, yes. Oh yeah. That's the nature of the beast. The budgets are usually so low and the time constraints so short- that the composer pretty much has to perform the entire score.

AAJ: You own the Dedication label, which put out your last jazz record aptly named Dedication.

SG: Yes. It's homespun. I make my own jazz albums and it is great fun for me. I am not working for anyone else. I am just making pure music that I want to do and I help other artists do the same.

AAJ: So despite playing on such film scores as Indiana Jones and working with the legendary Jerry Goldsmith, and all of the other myriad of film projects and television scoring you have done; when all is said and done, you still just consider yourself a jazz pianist.

SG: Oh, of course. Other than getting older and wiser, I still am what I am.

AAJ: You have a beautiful studio. It seems to me that many of the fusion keyboard players, in particular synthesizer players, have gone on to build amazing recording studios. Jan Hammer and Stevie Wonder come to mind quickly. But there are many, many others. Do you think there is something inbred in keyboard players—especially synthesizer players—that seems to give them an acumen for technology?

SG: That's a good question. As a keyboard player in my case, I grew up with the very first synthesizers in the early seventies. They were really clunky and unwieldy when I was with Mahavishnu. Actually after a while, I became turned-off by the whole electric thing. It was all about louder and faster and higher. At the time, these instruments were not all that musical as far as phrasing and nuance went. I dropped out and went back to playing acoustic piano, which is my first love. But when I came back to synthesizers in 1984, the technology had taken a great leap forward. All of a sudden they were making instruments that had real potential to play music. That is- if you knew how to operate them. And learning how to operate these instruments necessitated learning programs and all that stuff. I think that is where the technology comes into it.

AAJ: What music do you listen to these days?

SG: No one really. I don't want to be affected by outside influences. But when I do listen; I listen to classical, Indian and Miles Davis and John Coltrane from the fifties and sixties. But, I'd rather play. In fact, over the last three years, I have even seriously been studying the tabla!

AAJ: Does being a jazz player hurt you or help you in writing scores? Perhaps an improvised two minutes would not be appreciated by some producers.

SG: Well, that is hard to say. I don't really divide music into genres. In scores, music is the subtext anyway. It accompanies. It is really about mixing all of the elements to make a whole. It is all music to me.

Visit Stu Goldberg on the web.

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