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Ben Goldberg


In 1997 I received a Master of Arts degree in Music Composition from Mills College, where I studied musical analysis with David Bernstein, and composition with Alvin Curran, Pauline Oliveros, and Christian Wolff. In 1992 I received a Jazz Study Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts which funded private study with the saxophonist Joe Lovano.

Two Jazz Performance Grants from the National Endowment for the Arts enabled  me to develop and present concert series that advanced my musical understanding.  In 1994 I presented a series of concerts focusing on the work of a particular composer: Thelonious Monk, Herbie Nichols, Steve Lacy, Bobby Bradford/John Carter, and Andrew Hill. I was fortunate to work with Mr. Bradford and Mr. Hill in concerts of their music in this series. A second grant, in 1996, allowed me to present a series of concerts of my own compositions.

In 1993 the guitarist John Schott and I began working on music of the bebop era -- Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker. We soon found the songs transformed through elongation, repetition, dwelling, thickening the melody, and other approaches. The results are documented on the CD Junk Genius. Further study involved the post-serialist notion of combinatorial structures containing a specified number of notes. Working with four-note groups, we discovered transformations within a given structure and across structural forms. The results of this study are documented on the CD What Comes Before.

In 2004, after learning that Steve Lacy was ill, I began working on compositions dedicated to him. As Steve Lacy was my musical hero, I thought a lot about the nature of his influence on me and how I might separate my voice from the powerful effect of his. I convened a quintet (Carla Kihlstedt, violin; Rob Sudduth, saxophone; Devin Hoff, bass; Ches Smith, drums) to perform the pieces. The compositions were recorded shortly after Steve’s death and released in February 2006 on the CD the door, the hat, the chair, the fact (Cryptogrammophone).  Commenting on the CD on NPR’s Fresh Air, Kevin Whitehead said “all his music has one quality in common.  Call it ‘soul’.”

The music of Thelonious Monk has been central to my education and development. As with the European classical masters, the study of Monk’s music has taught me a lot. The more I play these songs, the more I see that each one contains a lesson – sometimes a lesson in harmony, sometimes melody, sometimes rhythm or phrasing – that forms the living core of the piece. The trio Plays Monk released a recording in 2007, and was listed in Downbeat Magazine’s critics’ poll in the category of Rising Star Ensemble.

Job Title

2nd Generation

Bay Area, CA, USA

Affiliated Artist

Ben Goldberg

Photo by John Rudoff

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