Larry Goldings: from frontman to sideman and back again
Goldings has balanced his career between playing his own music and being a keyboardist for the likes of James Taylor
The last time Larry Goldings was in Dublin, he was playing his Hammond organ to thousands of adoring fans at the Point. Not, you understand, that many of them knew the keyboardist’s name. The spotlight that night was focused on centre stage where the current employer of Goldings, James Taylor, was working his way through one of the most lustrous back catalogues in popular music.
Such is the lot of the sideman. The credits Goldings has accrued as a keyboardist for hire include Rickie Lee Jones, Maceo Parker, Norah Jones, Walter Becker, Melody Gardot and Elton John. Even Christina Aguilera’s name crops up on his voluminous discography, and for the last decade he has been touring the world with James Taylor in a group that includes perhaps the greatest sideman of them all, drummer Steve Gadd. In fact, Goldings has been so busy playing other people’s music, one wonders how he finds time to make his own.
“It’s a balancing act,” he says ahead of a rare European tour with his own trio, “because James will call with a large window of time that he wants to go out [touring] and he takes good care of us in terms of the finances, and that’s obviously something that becomes more important when you have a family, so you have to balance that with everything else.”
Even though “everything else” has included stints with giants of American jazz such as guitarists Jim Hall and John Scofield and saxophonist Michael Brecker, listening to Goldings enthuse about playing with his own trio – with guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Bill Stewart – one senses that part of him is pining for the simpler life of a jazz musician.
“We don’t play together half as much as we’d like to. I’d be perfectly happy just playing with the trio all the time, but it would have to be balanced with . . .” He tails off as he contemplates the realities of life without the sideman safety net.
“The thing is that if we played more, we could probably command bigger fees. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It was me taking sideman gigs that I felt I couldn’t turn down.”
Other people’s music
So does he regret devoting so much of his energies to other people’s music? “I don’t regret it because the non-jazz gigs that I’ve done have been with the most authentic people of those genres. I played funk with Maceo Parker, and folk-pop with James Taylor. I think all those experiences have influenced positively everything that I do.”
He pauses again, before adding: “It is frustrating to me. It isn’t that easy to get gigs with the trio, because we haven’t been out there as consistently. I kind of blame myself for maybe not pushing harder. But, you know, things happen. We all get busy with other projects.”
With calls coming in from the LA A-list, a burgeoning sideline writing for films (he recently completed a score for comedian Jeff Garlin’s film Dealin’ with Idiots), and his ongoing commitment to Taylor’s peerless group, where the levels of musicianship are as high as in any jazz group, Goldings can be forgiven for being a little conflicted about his musical choices, and he is refreshingly candid about his struggles to establish his own identity.
But anyone who has checked out his performances in a jazz context is left in little doubt that here is a musician with something to say and a generosity and inclusiveness in his playing that only comes from a wide and eclectic musical appetite. Examples of this include Saudades (2006), his superb trio recording with Scofield and Jack DeJohnette, and In My Room (2011), his warmly intimate solo piano album.
Goldings is now in his mid-40s. His has been the life of a working musician, and he clearly relishes the challenge of mastering the range of styles that has been his bread and butter.
“Sometimes I think that I jump around too much stylistically, and I fear that there is not an identifiable Larry Goldings sound. But the eclectic thing is just something that I can’t help. It makes it fun that I can jump from a Maceo Parker tour to a Jim Hall record.”
Speaking of the trio, he adds: “But getting back with Peter and Bill every chance we get always feels like home, it just feels so familiar. I feel like we’ve carved out a language that is our own and a concept that is our own. We grew up together and we’re all the same age, and there’s something really special about that. So I think, you know, maybe our time is still to come.
“I’m kind of over the romance of being out on the road. I don’t want to be sitting on a tour bus when I’m 65.”
Goldings stops himself again. “I’m not sure. Maybe I will. I’ve said that so many times but I think musicians don’t ever want to stop playing, and that usually means, at some point, that you’re on a tour bus or in a van or on a plane. But you know what? Maybe I’m kidding myself when I say that because I can’t stop playing music. What else am I going to do?”