Interview by Tanya Levy
He plays piano with utmost passion and excitement, and his smile is contagious to anyone who catches it. Brandon Goldberg (MGBH), an 11-year-old Floridian, a gifted jazz piano player, has conquered the hearts of many, including mine. Will he win yours, too?
PPM: Please, tell us about your participation in the TEDx. Did you have to practice your speech a lot? Did you have help writing it or did you do it yourself?
BG: My mom made me write the speech by myself. She said, “Just tell your story.” So, I went to my room, and I wrote it down. Then, she helped me organize my thoughts and put it all together. The whole TEDxYouth@Miami experience was great – all the kids selected to participate would meet at the Cushman School every Saturday morning for several months to rehearse in front of each other. Arvi Balseiro (MGBH), Principal of the Cushman School, and Lisa Herbert (MGBH) would give us feedback on our speech. They did it in such nice a way that it gave everyone the confidence to present in front of a big audience. At first, some of us were nervous, but at the end, everyone memorized their speeches. They helped us become better speakers and it was fun getting to know the other kids. On the last practice day, they brought in the red circle that TED is famous for, and we all had to practice speaking and staying on the circle. It was fun.
PPM: How did you first start composing music?
BG: I first started composing music when I had an idea and I wanted to develop it. I really wanted to express my thoughts. I asked my parents for some manuscript paper and then I just went from there. Soon enough I started using Sibelius and Finale, and eventually I started using Logic Pro X to record.
PPM: Did/do you study classical piano with a teacher?
BG: Yes, I currently study classical piano with Paul Posnak (MGBH), a retired professor from University of Miami Frost School of Music. He is a good fit for me, because he can teach classical and also appreciates other genres of music. He’s best known for his note-for-note transcriptions of Fats Waller and George Gershwin (OBM) Improvisations.
PPM: Who was your first piano teacher?
BG: Well, my first unofficial piano teacher was a Russian lady, Ina (MGBH), who lived around the corner. I think I was three or four, but I was too young to stay focused. Then I worked with, Rosa Rabinovich (MGBH), a teacher at our elementary school for a little while. Eventually, I switched over to Mila Vaserstein (MGBH), when I was five years old. I studied with Mila for about three years.
My first Jazz teacher was Markus Gottschlich (MGBH). He taught me a lot and introduced me to Wendy Oxenhorn (MGBH) at the Jazz Foundation of America. I’ll always be grateful to him.
PPM: Does anyone in your family play piano?
BG: Not really. My mother took piano lessons when she was younger for about 5 years, but she she stopped playing.
PPM: Do you have any siblings? If so, do they play an instrument?
BG: Yes, I have a younger sister, Aubrey (MGBH). She’s more into sports, especially gymnastics. She’s really good at gymnastics and dance.
PPM: You speak eloquently in from the audiences. How is speaking in front of people different from performing?
BG: Thank you. Speaking in front of people is different because I use words to share my experiences and my story. I try to choose my words carefully to make sure I get the right message across. With performing, it’s more fluid and spontaneous. I really try to inspire people through my music.
My first introduction to jazz was through an old Rat Pack Movie that I watched at my grandparents’ house. I became somewhat obsessed with the Rat Pack and everything about them…
PPM: Who introduced you to jazz and what was the first jazz song that you learned?
BG: My first introduction to jazz was through an old Rat Pack Movie that I watched at my grandparents’ house. I became somewhat obsessed with the Rat Pack and everything about them…how they carried themselves, what they wore. Then I started watching old concert videos of Frank Sinatra (OBM) with Tony Bennett (MGBH), Ella Fitzgerald (OBM), and many other singers from the Great American Songbook era. There was one Frank Sinatra concert with Oscar Peterson (OBM) on the piano and that was it – I just loved the sound of jazz, and it excited me. From there, I listened to the Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans (OBM) collaborations with Tony Bennett and just kept listening. I would probably say the first standard I learned was “Fly Me to the Moon”.
PPM: Tell us about meeting Tony Bennett and Joshua Bell (MGBH). What was special about meeting those men and what did you speak to them about?
BG: I’ve been lucky enough to see Tony Bennett in concert four times – and I’ve been able to meet him after each show. There’s always a long line of people to meet Mr. Bennett, so we don’t really have time to talk. I wish I could really spend some time with him and play the piano for him. It would be a dream come true to accompany him.
I got to meet Tony Bennett’s whole band once. They were really nice, and each band member autographed the set list for me. That was really special.
I met Joshua Bell briefly after his performance at Tanglewood. He encouraged me to keep playing. My parents also met Joshua Bell at a YoungArts event in Miami (I wasn’t there). He told them the story of how, when he was little, he used to put rubber bands on the knobs of his dresser drawers to create different sounds. My mom shared that story with me, and I even put that into my TEDx speech. It inspired my theme…everyone has their own instrument; you just need to take the time to find it.
People always tell me I’m an old soul.
PPM: Do you feel your age or do you sometimes feel older? Do you have older friends? Do you have a preference of having friends your age or older?
BG: People always tell me I’m an old soul. It’s hard to know what an older person feels like, but sometimes it is easier to connect with older kids and adults, especially if we can talk about music. I have friends my age and a few older friends that I play music with. To me age is only a number, but I am only 11 so I may need some more life experience.
PPM: Do you go to school or are you home schooled?
BG: I go to a regular school. Next year, I’ll be going to a performing arts middle school.
PPM: What are your favorite subjects to learn?
BG: I like Math because the numbers and equations relate to music.
PPM: What are some of your most memorable performances?
BG: I have a few… Definitely the time Monty Alexander, one of my heroes, surprised me for my 10th birthday and invited me onstage at Jazz at Lincoln Center to play “Fly Me to the Moon” with his band. That was awesome. I also got to play at the famous Apollo Theatre at the Jazz Foundation of America’s A Great Night in Harlem. I was invited there to honor McCoy Tyner (MGBH) as he received his lifetime achievement award. That was really cool. There were a lot of amazing musicians performing that night – Dr. John (MFBH), John Batiste (MFBH), John Mayer (MFBH), just to name a few.
Recently, I played at another Jazz Foundation of America event in Los Angeles at Herb Alpert’s club – Vibrato Grill. I got to meet Patti Austin (MGBH) and the amazing Merry Clayton (MGBH), who sang “You Are So Beautiful to Me” while I accompanied her on the piano. That was impromptu and really fun! I also met the one and only – Mr. Quincy Jones (MGBH). That was cool.
Harry Connick Jr. (MGBH) was also pretty great. It was nice talking to him – I feel like he understood me and it was really fun to jam with him on the piano. His band was really great, too!
I like Frank Sinatra, because he used his voice as an instrument. The variation and his phrasing of the lyrics and songs was like an improviser playing with the melody.
PPM: Why do you like Frank Sinatra (OBM)?
BG: I like Frank Sinatra, because he used his voice as an instrument. The variation and his phrasing of the lyrics and songs was like an improviser playing with the melody. I always like the arrangements that he sang that were done by Quincy Jones and Nelson Riddle (OBM).
PPM: Do you have other kids pianist friends?
BG: Not really, but I do have a good friend that plays guitar really well. I also have some friends that are in high school that I like to jam with.
PPM: Does your family take road trips? If so, where do you go?
BG: Sometimes we drive to Disney World or Universal Studios, since we live in Florida. We like go to the Berkshires in the summer for our family vacations and we’ve gone skiing the last few winters, but we fly to those places.
PPM: Do you have pets at home?
BG: No, but I would love a dog. My sister and I have been begging for a dog.
PPM: What are your responsibilities at home?
BG: I make my bed, keep my room clean, do well in school, and practice piano. I work on composing and playing in my Dad’s office at home, so he is always telling me to clean up all my wires, instruments, and cases.
PPM: What do you do on weekends?
BG: I have my classical piano lessons on Saturdays, and we’re usually busy with events or performances. I usually have homework to do on the weekends, but if we have free time, I like to swim or just hang out at home, compose music, and play on my Fender Rhodes vintage keyboard. If there is a jazz concert or a show in town, we try to go to that.
PPM: What is your biggest dream?
BG: I want a successful career playing and making music. I want to record and play my own compositions along with the top artists in Jazz.
My favorite book to read and re-read is Herbie Hancock’s (MGBH) autobiography, “Possibilities.” My mom says that it may not be age appropriate, but it’s really interesting.
PPM: What books do you like to read?
BG: My favorite book to read and re-read is Herbie Hancock’s (MGBH) autobiography, “Possibilities.” My mom says that it may not be age appropriate, but it’s really interesting.
I got to meet Herbie Hancock after a concert he did in Miami. He was so kind and inspiring. We talked about music, and he autographed my book and album covers. He wrote some really nice messages to me. He’s amazing, and I really look up to him.
PPM: Do you speak any foreign languages?
BG: I can understand Russian and speak it a little. My mother was born in the Ukraine.
PPM: Have you travelled outside the US? If so, what was the trip you enjoyed the most?
BG: The only time I’ve been out of the US was on a cruise to the Caribbean we took with my family.
PPM: Do you like to be funny and make people laugh?
BG: I like to make people laugh, but that seems to mostly happen unintentionally.
PPM: Do you have any recorded CDs?
BG: Not yet, that is my goal in the next year or so.