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The origins of Alan Goldberg's hybrid of jazz fusion and prog rock
(Published: October 31, 2019)

Balancing the distance between jazz fusion and progressive rock, Alan Goldberg has just released a compelling new album, Passion No Distraction.

Q: What initially sparked your interest in music and how old were you?

A: My mom used to always tell the story about when I was about 8 years old, my older brother was taking piano lessons, carefully learning the music and grinding through practicing, after he was finished practicing, I would come up to the piano and play the song that he had been struggling to play. This made him very angry. I also remember being captivated by the Vince Guaraldi music that was the background of the Peanuts cartoon specials we watched as kids.

Q: Were you surrounded by music growing up? Where there are any musicians in your family?

A: I have four brothers. Three of them were horn players - sax, trumpet, and trombone. They all marched in the Iowa Hawkeye Marching Band.. The sax and trumpet playing brothers still play in local jazz bands, as do their sons. My mom said that I 'bit the piano' when I was 3 or four and always used to point out my teeth marks in the wood of the piano to people. I'm sure she didn't intend to embarrass me.

Q: As an artist, how would you say you have evolved over the years?

A: I've always been a spontaneous improv player, depending a lot on feel and emotion to drive my creative flow and music. Over the years, I've learned to maintain that spontaneity while adding conscious arrangement elements to the improv/song using the same creative flow. This has improved my playing and song writing, and allowed for many more musical possibilities in a piece. I've learned that it is important to keep myself in a position to be able to grow as a person and as a musician, to let change and growth fuel my creativity. Musical learning is important. There is always so much to learn, and that adds more fuel to the creative process for sure.

Q: What are some of the challenges you have faced, both personally and professionally, in your musical career? How did you overcome them?

A: I'm a two time cancer survivor. After going through those experiences, I've learned that there's no reason to fear anything. Everything is going to turn out fine, no matter what. Any fears that may have been holding me back from achieving my full musical potential have been pummeled into submission by my cancer experiences.

Many musicians juggle working at a job for money, and their music. That's hard, no question about it. I did that for many years. Add in raising a family and everything can get very hectic.

I've been fortunate recently to be able to focus on music full time and it allows me to focus on my passion, with much less distraction.

I've never focused on creating mainstream music of any genre. That's always a tougher road. I play what I hear in my head. All of those thoughts and feelings are infused into the Passion No Distraction album.

Q: How would you describe your new album, Passion No Distraction?

A: Passion No Distraction is based on improvisational piano pieces that I played in one take, then added the other instrumental elements to. That leads to many of the pieces having a "roller coaster ride" feel of themes and parts taking twists and turns. I've always liked songs that surprise me and break the verse/chorus/verse structure.

I wanted to create the same experience for the listener that I had growing up. I would put a new album on the turntable - usually some rock or prog rock or jazz fusion by bands like Yes, Chick Corea, Jethro Tull, Genesis, Weather Report, Frank Zappa. Then I would sit in my dad's big recliner in his home office, and as the needle dropped, not know what to expect, or where the music would lead me. I want the listener to hop on the musical roller coaster and experience the same swoops and weightless moments. Each song relates in some way to the interaction and pull between passion and distraction and what the struggle between them does to thoughts and feelings.

Q: What are your goals as a musician?

A: The number one goal is to continue learning and growing. Whether it's listening to or playing with other musicians, or incorporating a new chord progression into an improv piece, growth is important. I would like to do more soundtrack work using my improv style. Expressing emotion through music is key and soundtrack music is obviously a perfect vehicle for that. I am also working on the next album that I hope will reflect my continued growth as a musician and composer. Of course, I want to play with other people and make new music. It's all fun, and it's all good.

Q: Did you study music in school?

A: I started playing the piano when I was 4. I took violin lessons and played in the school orchestra. I picked up the drums and jammed through high school and college. I've played keyboards in bands for the past 20+ years. Most of my early learning was by ear, listening to songs and then creating arrangements for them. Over time I've added more formal self-study on the piano and organ.

Q: Which musicians have inspired you and how?

A: From the earliest days, Vince Guaraldi, as I mentioned. I followed the strains of progressive rock and Jazz fusion through Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul. I think Frank Zappa was a genius. He integrated jazz themes into his music in fantastic ways. His music is full of the surprises I love. If you really listen, you can hear the underlying jazz complexity in many of his "quirky" pieces. Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman used to battle it out for the progressive rock keyboard throne, which was fun to follow back in the day. It was Emerson's jazz vibe versus Wakeman's classical vibe head to head. The early jazz flute of Ian Anderson has definitely influenced me melodically, as well as Jaco Pastorius' and Chris Squire's approach to bass lines.

Q: Are there any artists who influenced you to change your approach to music and how?

A: I feel that every musician that I've mentioned previously has, as well as others, influenced my approach to music. These musicians apply technical rigor to their improvisations without sacrificing feel and emotion. I use that model to apply what I learn every day to my own spontaneous improvisations. They tell a story that you can feel emotionally in their music and their playing. Carrying the roots those musicians gave me forward into new music and mixing it all together, I try to do the same thing, while incorporating things I've learned. It's about communicating emotion with music.

More Information: http://alangoldbergmusic.com


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