Aaron Goldberg: Growing as a Band Leader
People in New York, they hear all the best musicians all the time so they take it for granted. You really have to be good to impress them, which is maybe the way it should be. That being said this week in Lisbon alone you have Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, Madeleine Peyroux, Wayne Shorter, us... This feels like New York in Lisbon!
AAJ: If you hadn't been a jazz musician and since you graduated in history and science, what could you be doing by now? Do you imagine yourself working in something else besides music?
AG: When I was younger I never thought I would become a professional musician. There was a period of time in high school when I thought I wanted to be a poet. I was as interested in writing poetry as I was in playing music. When I was really young I wanted to be a professional tennis player but I think I woke up to the fact it was never going to happen. I'm happy that I did but I still have dreams about playing professional tennis. I think that I probably would have ended up in academia doing research and maybe teaching or maybe writing poetry.
Lately I have been gaining more interest in politics. I feel like there are so many problems in the world that are addressable, if you don't address them, if you don't work to try to fix them we may not be here for much longer, which is a sad thought, as much as I feel like art is a necessity and when I doubt it people remind me, people that hear our music, remind me not to stop doing this.
I believe music has been handed down to me by all those other great musicians I have played with: Al Foster played with Miles and he handed the music to Al, Al handed the music to my generation, to me and my friends. Even people like Wynton [Marsalis], who is just one generation older, he is always talking about "this music is in your hands, you're going to be the carrier of this tradition, don't let it die. I feel a certain responsibility to this music, I'm not going to let it die and I'm going to pursue it all my life but there are other times when I wonder there are a lot of things we need to do in this world in addition to moving people with art and music.
There are a lot of very practical problems that we need to try to solve. So I'm interested in figuring out a way to do both, to try to pursue my arts, my music and give it to people and make it as great as possible and also not forget about the other aspects than need some love and attention.
AAJ: What was the turning point in your musical career? Was it your work with Betty Carter?
AG: The real turning point was going to the New School after high school. That was the moment when everything came to a peak with my parents, my relationship with my family. They didn't want me to go to music school, I didn't want to go to university right away, I wanted to do something different to kind of escape, to get off that path that was taking me towards being a lawyer or a doctor. I was starting to fall in love with music and it took a certain amount of courage and also just a certain stubbornness for me to actually end up at the New School, because everything was pushing me away from it.
If I hadn't done that when I was seventeen, first of all I never would even consider becoming a professional musician because when I made that decision it wasn't in order to play music professionally, it was just in order to get off the path that I was on, just to be free, to leave my parents, to be in New York, to have some adult experiences. But because of that year that I spent at the New School, being around people who planned to become professional musicians and who challenged me and hearing all the great musicians you hear in New York (I was at the New School at the same time as Omer Avital, Avishai Cohen, Roy Hargrove, Brad Mehldau, Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein), I improved a lot to the point I was just starting to play gigs in NYC.