Pianist Victor Gould is quickly establishing himself as a musical force to be reckoned with, making waves in New York’s renowned jazz scene and across the globe. Gould holds degrees from Berklee College of Music and the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in addition to a long list of honorary awards. He has since spent considerable time as a member of the Donald Harrison Quartet and has performed with the likes of Esperanza Spalding, Terence Blanchard, Branford Marsalis, Nicholas Payton, Ralph Peterson and many others. Now a New York resident, Gould finds himself a member of the Wallace Roney Quintet and will begin recording his debut album in March 2014.
Not a stranger to The Jazz Gallery, Victor has graced our stage with the likes of Godwin Louis and Kyle Poole . On Thursday, January 30th, 2014 as part of the Gallery’s “Thursday Night Debut Series”, we’ll present Victor Gould as a leader of his own trio, supported by Ben Williams on bass and John Davis on drums in addition to a special guest. Victor will be presenting some compositions he has prepared for the upcoming album. He was kind enough to sit down with us this January in a Brooklyn coffee house and share a bit about himself.
The Jazz Gallery: You grew up in Los Angeles – how did you get involved in music and what kind of opportunities did you take hold of in your youth? Is there a memorable musical experience you had during that period?
Victor Gould: I started most of my jazz studies at The Colburn School in downtown Los Angeles through an after-school program—there they did private lessons and ensembles. I also studied with a great Israeli pianist named Tamir Hendelman starting when I was 12 years old. Also, the high school I went to—L.A. County High School for the Arts—had a great jazz program led by Jason Goldman and that was a great opportunity to be a part of. My father plays jazz flute and he just wanted someone to play with I guess. He got me into the piano when I was about four years old.
TJG: Who have been your primary mentors and what has been most valuable about these relationships?
VG: So I guess my definition of a mentor is a teacher that goes out of their way doing things outside of music, like meeting for lunch—something that’s extra, beyond the call of duty. Donald Harrison has definitely been a great mentor to me. He gave me some of my first experiences on the road. I was part of his band for three years. I first met him and started playing with him when I was 17 years old in Boston, attending the Berklee College of Music. I traveled around the world with him and he taught me a lot. He was really patient with me at a young age and I really appreciate that.
Ralph Peterson (I played in his band and he took a lot of time with me) really went out of his way to mention my name a lot and tried to help me every way he could. I recorded an album with him called The Duality Perspective. Wallace Roney has been a big mentor to me. I’m in his band right now so I definitely consider him a mentor as well. Terri Lyne Carrington (I played with her a group a bit), she’s invited me over to her house for parties, given me a lot of advice, contributed in terms of recommendation letters and things like that. I recorded something with her that was never released. It was supposed to be a project she was going to do for Herbie Hancock. Overall, she’s been a big help and a lot of inspiration. I got to spend a lot of time with pianist Danilo Perez, both in the classroom and out. He’s been a great help.
TJG: Considering your studies and professional career thus far, what experiences have been the most challenging or valuable for you?
VG: I guess moving to New York has been a challenge in itself, particularly getting accustomed to the different pace. I lived in New Orleans right before that so it was completely different. I believe living in New York is a different experience, especially being a musician. You have to balance a schedule and get your priorities in order and stay focused. I feel it’s more challenging to keep an identity in New York just because there are so many great musicians; it’s really easy to be influenced too much by others. The biggest challenge is trying to stay on my own path musically and socially—setting goals and things of that sort.
TJG: As a musician, having spent considerable time in Boston and New Orleans in addition to touring the world, how has each locale had an effect on your musical approach or musical spirit? Do these cities inspire you in different ways?
VG: I think…more so than the actual cities, it’s the people that I’ve met in those cities. For example, the great thing about living here in New York is that they all kind of move here together—everyone that I’ve met in Boston and known from LA and New York—they live here now.
TJG: At the Monk Institute you studied under the direction of Terence Blanchard, and with friends like Godwin Louis, Billy Buss, Nicholas Falk (Xplosion). You’ve furthered those musical ties in NYC as well—how has that been?
VG: We’re playing a show with Godwin on January 25th at the BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center as part of a series that presents the winners of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition; he was second runner-up. I live with Nicholas Falk, who’s been my roommate for the past year. Billy Buss… I see him all the time. We were all really close friends so naturally we kept in touch.
TJG: Can you tell us about your debut album that you’ll be recording in March 2014? Who will be on that record?
VG: It may be too premature yet to discuss who is on it but I do have songs composed for it that I’ll be presenting at The Jazz Gallery. For the upcoming show, I’ll be doing a piece that I originally wrote for symphony orchestra in 2011 called Side Angle.
TJG: Can you give some commentary around the material’s backstory and inspiration?
VG: All of them have random little backstories and inside jokes but they don’t usually influence the actual composition itself—usually its silly little inside jokes but some of them have significant context. I think I’ll probably go into more detail at the show.
TJG: Have you been testing out this material already in live contexts?
VG: Yeah, I’ve gotten to play a lot of the music live. I’m really excited to get to play the music with Ben Williams and John Davis because I think they inspire different sides of my composition. I don’t know if they’ll be able to do the record, but I’m really interested to see how the show turns out because that’s going to determine a lot of what happens with the record.
TJG: Do you think it’s best to explore music in a live setting before you work it out in the studio?
VG: I think that’s ideal. If you can set up that situation, then it’s great. I’ve set up a mini-process in that vein with The Jazz Gallery show on January 30th, a TV show on February 10th, and then at Smalls Jazz Club on February 12th. Along with those three opportunities, hopefully I can get a couple more things lined up that will keep the momentum going. But if I had the opportunity to tour first, I would definitely do that. Some of the best records come out that way.
TJG: Is the music influenced by your teachers and bandleaders?
VG: There are a lot of devices that Terence Blanchard taught us that I still use, that are a big part of my playing. Terence talks a lot about motivic development—you see this both throughout his compositions and his improvisations. He has definitely influenced my composition in addition to all the people I’ve played with—Ralph Peterson, Wallace as well.
TJG: Tell us a little bit about your approach to composition?
VG: Usually, it could start with me singing it into my phone on a subway or sitting at the piano and just playing something. Ideas grow off of each other so they could start in any random way. I try to start with the simplest thing and take it from there.
TJG: What is the context of your relationship to the other musicians you’ll be playing with (Ben Williams & John Davis)? How did you guys sync up and why have you chosen to perform with them?
VG: I first met them when we did a tour in California with Etienne Charles. Right away from the first sound check it just felt so natural. Ever since that tour—I believe it was an eight or nine day tour—I have been looking for an opportunity to play trio with them as the rhythm section. Also, Gilad Hekelsman was on that tour as well. He’s a great player and the way the four of us played together… it was great. I wish I could get Gilad on some stuff too.
TJG: Do you have any goals carved out for this trio configuration?
VG: Not quite yet. Ben and John are very busy, and I’m just really happy they were able to do this. This year, Ben is going to be gone with Pat Metheny a lot and John will be busy with Lionel Loueke a lot this year, but I would love to do something.
TJG: Outside of jazz, what other music are you influenced by?
VG: I was listening a lot more to other genres when I was at Berklee and even in New Orleans, but in the past couple of years I’ve been staying more focused on specific kinds of jazz. I love listening to, say, R&B, but I just don’t have it on my phone at the moment. I’ve done a few different R&B gigs since I moved to New York which have been fun. I did a tour with Nneka when I first moved to New York—she’s great!
TJG: Do you have a preference across electric or acoustic instrumentation?
VG: I’ve been doing a lot of electric stuff with Wallace’s band because that’s what he’s trying to do. I think with my own music it’s going to be mostly acoustic. In the studio I’ll probably be using Fender Rhodes, maybe some other sounds that I’ve learned to use with Wallace’s band. I’ve been working with delay pedals a lot lately with the Fender Rhodes and I kind of like that. I might incorporate a bit of that in the studio, but maybe not live.
TJG: What music are you listening to these days?
VG: Let’s see: Mwandishi by Herbie Hancock, Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis—Wallace Roney has been putting me on to a lot of Miles that I have kind of neglected in the past. I like Danilo Pérez a lot, particularly Providencia.
The Victor Gould Trio featuring a special guest (TBA) plays The Jazz Gallery on Thursday, January 30th, at 9 and 11 p.m. The group features Victor Gould on piano, Ben Williams on bass, and John Davis on drums. First set is $15 general admission ($10 for members). Second Set is $10 general admission ($5 for members). Purchase tickets here.