Ben Goldberg

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Ben Goldberg
Born (1959-08-08) August 8, 1959 (age 55)
Origin Denver, Colorado, United States
Genres Jazz, free jazz, klezmer
Occupation(s) Musician, composer
Instruments clarinet
Associated acts Tin Hat

Ben Goldberg is an American clarinet player and composer.

Early life and education[edit]

He grew up in Denver, Colorado. Goldberg grew up playing clarinet, playing in school bands, and has an undergraduate music degree from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Master of Arts in composition from Mills College. He was a pupil of clarinetist Rosario Mazzeo, and studied with Steve Lacy and Joe Lovano. Interested in the intersection between jazz (the music) and clarinet (the instrument), Goldberg started exploring the rich clarinet traditions found in klezmer music.


Band membership[edit]

After a stint with the Bay Area band The Klezmorim, he branched out and created his own band, the New Klezmer Trio, named after the New Tango Quintet,[citation needed] with Dan Seamans and Kenny Wollesen. This was the first of many ensembles that Goldberg would lead and/or participate in, primarily in and around the Bay Area. The New Klezmer Trio has produced three albums and the free improvisation on "Masks and Faces" was described as having "kicked open the door for radical experiments with Ashkenazi roots music."[1] Goldberg's musicality is inspiring, to audiences and to his fellow musicians; "Sometimes the most influential musicians are the ones who don't call much attention to themselves. Take Berkeley clarinetist Ben Goldberg, who for the past two decades has quietly inspired some of the Bay Area's most creative musicians."[1]

In addition to composing for and playing in the Ben Goldberg Quintet, he performs in the following groups:

The eleven-piece Ben Goldberg's Brainchild performs Ben's on-the-spot compositions.

The network of artists with whom Goldberg performs also includes:

Writing career[edit]

Recently Goldberg has branched out into songwriting.[3] His "Orphic Machine" project, largely commissioned by Chamber Music America, premiered at the Jewish Music Festival in March 2012 and was also performed in Los Angeles, California. The song-cycle is based on the writings of Allen Grossman and, for one critic, "the piece's thoughtful, sprawling compositions course through such a variety of styles and open-ended impulses that it would be tempting to dub this a new kind of world music."[4] Regarding songwriting and composing, in a 2010 profile piece in All About Jazz, Goldberg said, "I don't just want to give people something that they can appreciate or understand, or that makes them think, or something like that. I used to kind of feel that that's what I wanted to do, but that's not what I want anymore. I want to give people something that they can love."[5]


In 2011, Goldberg was named the #1 Rising Star Clarinetist by the Down Beat Critic's Poll.[6]

Record label[edit]

Goldberg is also the founder of the music label BAG Production.[7]

Commissions and grants[edit]

Below is a selection of grants and commissions that Goldberg has received:


  • New Klezmer Trio – Masks and Faces (Tzadik, 1991)
  • The Relative Value of Things (33 1/4), with Kenny Wollesen (1993)
  • Junk Genius – Junk Genius (Knitting Factory Works) with John Schott, Trevor Dunn, and Kenny Wollesen (1995)
  • New Klezmer Trio – Melt Zonk Rewire (Tzadik, 1995)
  • Light at the Crossroads (Songlines) with Marty Ehrlich (1997)
  • What Comes Before (Tzadik), reflections on post-tonal harmonic structures with John Schott and Michael Sarin (1998)
  • Twelve Minor (Avant) (1998)
  • Ben Goldberg Trio – Here By Now (Music and Arts) with Trevor Dunn and Elliot Humberto Kavee (1998)
  • Junk Genius – Ghost of Electricity (Songlines) (1999)
  • New Klezmer Trio – Short for Something (Tzadik, 2000)
  • Almost Never (nuscope) with John Schott and Trevor Dunn (2000)
  • Ben Goldberg – Eight Phrases for Jefferson Rubin (Victo) (2004)
  • Ben Goldberg Quintet – The Door, the Hat, the Chair, the Fact (Cryptogramophone), a record of compositions dedicated to Steve Lacy (2006)
  • Nels Cline – New Monastery (Cryptogramophone) (2006)
  • Plays Monk (Long Song Records) with Scott Amendola and Devin Hoff (2007)
  • Tin Hat – The Sad Machinery of Spring (Rykodisc) (2007)
  • Ben Goldberg – Go Home (BAG Production) 2009
  • Ben Goldberg Trio – Speech Communication (Tzadik) with Greg Cohen and Kenny Wollesen (2009)
  • Clarinet Thing – Cry, Want (BC Records) (2009)
  • Tin Hat – Foreign Legion (BAG Production) 2010
  • Ben Goldberg Quartet – Baal: Book of Angels Volume 15 (Tzadik, 2010) – John Zorn's Masada Book 2
  • Myra Melford's Be Bread – The Whole Tree Gone (Firehouse 12) (2010)

As sideman[edit]

With Jamie Saft

Personal life[edit]

Goldberg lives in Berkeley, California.

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

[1] February 2013 New York Times review of "Unfold Ordinary Mind" and "Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues.”

External links[edit]