ONE OF THE MOST PROMISING UPRIGHT BASSISTS on today’s Southeastern jazz scene, Will Goble is seemingly in almost constant demand as a sideman — and for noteworthy players at that.
Over the past few years, this college educated musician (he holds two degrees in jazz — one of them a Master’s) has gigged with Grammy-winning pianist Marcus Roberts, and either backed up (or at times led) such established artists as Jason Marsalis, Barry Greene, Kevin Bales, Vincent Gardner and Wycliffe Gordon from North Florida to Lincoln Center.
This Sunday, he brings his longtime Trio (consisting of drummer Dave Potter and pianist Austin Johnson) back to downtown Savannah for a special early evening ALL-AGES show sponsored by the Coastal Jazz Association. I caught up with Goble the day after a show for a lengthy discussion of his take on jazz education, the difficulties of growing a thriving jazz scene in a town of our size, and what keeps his band together as a creative unit.
What do you get from playing or listening to jazz that you can’t find in any other genre?
Will Goble: Jazz involves a certain element of spontaneity with a rhythmic feeling that is unique from any other genre. At the end of the day, what other music swings? And swing is an optimistic, elevating force for people who are listening.
So much of the jazz scene consists of mercenary musicians who take just about any gig they can, and who want to play with —and learn from— as many other musicians as possible. So it’s rare to see young players who are actively trying to keep their own group together. Tell me a bit about what led the Will Goble Trio to try and remain a specific unit, and what unique challenges that presents.
Will Goble: Well, all of us do take gigs with other musicians, but we try to work as much as possible as a band. It enables us to pick music that both highlights our strengths (individually and collectively) and addresses our weaknesses. So, by working together steadily, we can continue to become better musicians together, in a setting that is tailored for everyone to improve. It also allows us to develop a musical rapport that we must continue to nurture. By staying together as a group, we have a better opportunity to make the best music possible, because we’re not feeling out new members every gig. There’s a certain trust present.
What are some of the main reasons the three of you decided to work together as a team? What are the special attributes which each member brings to the table that combine well with the other members’?
Will Goble: There weren’t a lot of people for any of us to choose from. We gravitated towards making music together because all of us are serious about trying to make great music, and trying to constantly improve. Dave (the drummer) and I have known each other for years, and we are musically sympathetic. Dave is a challenging drummer to play with, and Austin was a logical choice to join us on piano because he didn’t run from the challenge. Dave’s playing makes some musicians insecure about the strength of their rhythmic language, so some people we know prefer to write off all the great stuff he plays; it can be too difficult for them to deal with. Austin wanted to learn about it, rather than bad-mouth it. So we spend a lot of time woodshedding as a group, and we’ve always been productive when we rehearse.
You’ve become something of an in-demand session and live player, and have worked with a number of heavyweight soloists and band leaders over the past few years. How does one go about getting on the preferred player list of someone like Jason Marsalis or Kevin Bales?
Will Goble: I’ve been lucky to have great teachers, and I try to put the sound of the group over my personal needs. But really, I think these older, greater musicians hire guys like Dave, Austin and myself because they see that we work hard, that we love to play, and that we are always pushing to get better. We aren’t finished products by any means, but we take chances, and we try to reach people with the music we play. So I think it’s a matter of certain players taking us under their wing, and also a matter of sharing certain musical values.
So many of the young jazz players these days are all coming out of Florida, which I assume has a great deal to do with the growing influx of college jazz programs in that state. How much did studying jazz in Florida help your career?
Will Goble: I’m not a huge advocate of majoring in jazz in college, even though I got two jazz degrees. The best part of studying in Florida was the relationships with the musicians who taught us, and the mentorship they offered that isn’t limited to a class room. Men like Marcus Roberts, Rodney Jordan, Leon Anderson, Kevin Bales, etc... The access to these people made school worthwhile.
Is it safe to say that without the Florida connection, you would likely not be on as many people’s radar as you are currently?
Will Goble: Yes, without having the chance to work with the musicians I mentioned, I’m sure I’d be much worse off. We are extremely grateful for their mentorship. It’s more about their work than the universities in Florida, and I don’t mean that as a slight.
You recently received your Masters degree in jazz. For those of us who have never studied music professionally, there often seems something a little stodgy or forced about the idea of going to school and getting a degree in something like improvisational music, which (it seems) should somehow be more laid back and intuitive than school-taught. Have you ever felt at all awkward or uncomfortable with the notion of studying jazz and jazz performance much as one would study any other type of art, such as painting or sculpture?
Will Goble: It’s essential to always work hard to study jazz, learn its history and be thorough in examining recordings, listening and rehearsing. I don’t think it’s necessary to major in jazz or go to grad school for it. For me, it was a way to get a free college education, and a connection to certain mentors, but it’s definitely not for everyone. Even if one does go to school for jazz, everyone must be self-taught to some extent. Because in jazz, you can’t be spoon-fed and still be a viable professional. No one can practice for you — even at school. You need to learn to play from great recordings, interaction with great musicians, constant practice, taking chances, life experience and in any other way you can enrich yourself as a human or musician. Even those who grasp things quicker than others —and can function more on intuition and perhaps a naturally great ear— must work very hard to become great artists.
What sorts of classes does one take when studying jazz at the university level? Do the other students actively critique each others’ performances and chops?
Will Goble: My officially registered jazz classes were not particularly important parts of my development. The ensembles I played in and mentors I spent time with were. There were classes in jazz history, improvisation, ensembles, lessons and more. But to me, it was time spent outside of the classroom that was most formative.
Who are some of the bassists (or other musicians) that you look to for inspiration (musical or otherwise) and why?
Will Goble: Of bassists who are currently active performers that I know personally, I go to Rodney Jordan and Roland Guerin if I have a question to ask. I also listen to bassists such as Bob Hurst, Reginald Veal, Eric Revis, Hans Glawishnig and Dave Holland. I gain inspiration any time I hear a great record, so listening to Coltrane, Monk, Louis Armstrong and others can usually provide me with all the inspiration I need. But speaking with Marcus Roberts, hearing him play, and hanging out with him never lets me down if I am in need of a push. And that’s true for our whole group. Speaking of the group, Dave is still a mentor to me musically. He helps me determine specific music —or musical concepts— that I want to practice.
You’ve appeared in Savannah many times in the past, often accompanying Jason Marsalis in his Vibes Quartet. What’s your take on this city in terms of its jazz scene, both positive and negative?
Will Goble: Savannah has a very engaging listening audience — meaning that no matter how many people are there, they are going to give you energy and attention and treat you kindly afterwards. I think one thing lacking however, is the absence of any true jazz venues, especially with the closing of Kokopelli’s.
When Kokopelli’s recently shut its doors, we lost our one and only dedicated jazz club. As someone who’d gigged there, did you see that coming, or was that a surprise to you?
Will Goble: I did see that coming. It’s a sad truth about being involved in jazz in 2008. Jazz is just not a part of many peoples’ lives, so it’s very difficult to build an audience for a new club. I’m thankful for the chances I had to perform there. It was a great place for myself, Dave and Austin to play with great musicians and present our trio’s music to a different audience. I’m glad that Rory McKenzie fought to keep a jazz venue open in Savannah, and I’m quite thankful to him. This is why it’s important for younger jazz musicians to think about reaching people beyond other musicians —like folks who work at the Post Office, or teach elementary school. Jazz can still be sophisticated and intellectual — but elements of the blues, swing, an acknowledgement of the human condition, and just a general groove can draw in regular folks in an intangible, uplifting way.
For this show, you’re performing for the Coastal Jazz Association, which has lately been broadening its scope (and perhaps updating its image) in hopes of attracting new members, and drawing a wider variety of people to its live events. How does our local organization compare with other regional jazz societies in the Southeast that you may have worked with in the past?
Will Goble: I think the CJA is more open about bringing in musicians that they may not know personally than other societies can often be. They seem to have an expansive mind-set without ignoring their local base.
Tell me a bit about this upcoming show. What sort of material will you be presenting?
Will Goble: Our group will play a mix of standards and originals. We play a healthy dose of (Thelonious) Monk’s music, and also draw on some lesser-known compositions from our favorite performers.
Whose arrangements will you be drawing from? Are they your own, or done by someone else in the group?
Will Goble: We all write music for the group, and collaborate on most arrangements. Each of has a few originals and arrangements that we’ve contributed. In effect, I’m not really the band leader in that regard. In fact, we look to Dave for a certain amount of musical leadership. But I deal with a lot of the public duties of a band leader, as well as the business responsibilities. Musically, it’s truly collaborative. For example, recently Austin has been contributing the bulk of originals.
For people who may have seen your trio play before, will this set be any sort of a departure form prior Savannah engagements?
Will Goble: Rather than a departure, hopefully this will be an expansion of the sound we were dealing with in past performances, with some more original music thrown in.
Is there anything in particular you have come to enjoy about Savannah that is not directly related to your musical experiences here? (i.e., specific places to hang in your off-time, favorite restaurants, bars, people, etc...)
Will Goble: Saigon Restaurant on Broughton St!
If you could change any one thing about the local Savannah jazz scene, what would it be and why?
Will Goble: I’d love to see a new venue with a great piano and great attendance. I’d also love to see Kokopelli’s have the chance to reopen. I also need to get off my butt and go seek out Ben Tucker the next time I’m in Savannah.
What’s one jazz album you can’t imagine ever dropping from your own record collection?
Will Goble: John Coltrane’s Crescent.
Is there a particular non-jazz musician whose work you enjoy which some folks might find a surprising choice?
Will Goble: I’ve been listening to a lot of Toots and the Maytals on long drives lately. Their music has lots of aesthetic similarities to American R & B, but rhythmically, it’s a different language.
The Will Goble Trio
Where: Four Points by Sheraton, Historic District (520 W. Bryan St.)
When: 5 pm, Sun., July 27
Cost: $10 (free for CJA members and those who join at this show)