Ben Goldberg

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Ben Goldberg
Ben Goldberg 2018 by Justus Nussbaum.jpg
Background information
Born (1959-08-08) August 8, 1959 (age 59)
Denver, Colorado, United States
GenresJazz, free jazz, klezmer
Occupation(s)Musician, composer
Associated actsTin 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.


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 has performed in the groups Tin Hat, Plays Monk, Myra Melford's Be Bread, Nels Cline's New Monastery, Afterlife Music Radio, and Go Home. The eleven-piece Ben Goldberg's Brainchild performs his on-the-spot compositions.

Goldberg has played with Bill Frisell, Don Byron, Ellery Eskelin, Jenny Scheinman, John Zorn, Mark Dresser, Mark Feldman, Miya Masaoka, Roswell Rudd, Steven Bernstein, Vijay Iyer, Wayne Horvitz, and Zeena Parkins.

Goldberg is also the founder of the music label BAG Production.[2]

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]

Awards and honors[edit]

In 2011, Goldberg was named the No. 1 Rising Star Clarinetist by the Down Beat Critic's Poll.[6]


  • 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

With Nels Cline

With Kris Davis

With Allison Miller

  • Otis the Polar Bear (Royal Potato Family, 2017)

With Jamie Saft

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Gilbert, Andrew (February 18, 2005). "Berkeley: Clarinetist stays behind the scenes but is still at the head of the pack". San Francisco Chronicle.
  2. ^ Goldberg, Ben. "BAG productions". Archived from the original on September 4, 2011. Retrieved June 18, 2012.
  3. ^ "Clarinetist Ben Goldberg ventures in new direction". San Francisco Chronicle. March 29, 2012.
  4. ^ Barton, Chris (March 6, 2012). "Jazz Review: Ben Goldberg's Orphic Machine at the Blue Whale". Los Angeles Times.
  5. ^ Allen, Warren (March 30, 2010). "Ben Goldberg; Clarinet Communion". All About Jazz.
  6. ^ "2011 DownBeat Critics Poll". Down Beat. August 31, 2011.

Further reading[edit]

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

External links[edit]