Wide-ranging jazz pianist feels at home in Portland’s Jewish neighborhood

Jazz pianist, arranger and film scorer David Goldblatt has worked with such luminaries as Wayne Shorter, Dave Weckl and John Patitucci. After more than 20 years in Los Angeles, Goldblatt and his wife, Kimmer, decided to call Hillsdale their home. We recently spoke with Goldblatt about his career and his family’s transition to Southwest Portland.

OJL: What brought you to Portland?

DG: Our son, Jordan, was born in 1999, and my wife and I decided it was time to make a move. We chose Portland for its beautiful surroundings, forward thinking and brilliant array of culture. After much research, we landed in the Southwest area near Portland Jewish Academy and Mittleman Jewish Community Center. Jordan attended PJA for four wonderful years. It was a very nurturing and close-knit community. We love the Southwest part of Portland and have felt very welcomed by so many people.

OJL: Are you influenced by any Jewish themes in your music?

DG: Jewish themes, and the soulful qualities inherent in that music, go deep with me ever since I was a child at Temple Shalom on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. I was bar mitzvahed in that beautiful temple, and I will never forget some of the deeply moving music I heard there. The baritone cantor with the cello, choir and organ struck many special places in me. The minor chords and scales, and how they were sung and played, must have been a big part of my musical foundation. For several years, I have been listening to Israeli bassist/composer Avishai Cohen, and I really love his integration of jazz, African, Latin and Jewish folk music.

OJL: Can you give us some details about your musical background?

DG: I grew up in Chicago. My mom was a pianist and singer before she married at 22. As a youngster, I heard her singing the lyrics to many standards around the house. I sat under the Baldwin baby grand piano (which is now in my home) while she played from the classical repertoire and numerous show tunes. She wanted each of her three boys to play an instrument and chose piano for me. I started lessons at 6, but I didn’t become really interested in the piano until one of the younger, hipper teachers told my mom that she was going to lose me to music unless she could put me on a path that would nourish my inclination to improvise.

Music became everything to me. I graduated high school a year early and went to Northern Illinois University in Dekalb. I played there in the award-winning big band under the direction of Ron Model, and had the opportunity to work with Dizzy Gillespie, who became a personal friend. After a year at Northern Illinois, I moved to Boston to study at the Berklee College of Music, where I trained for two years before leaving to study with the teacher who became my guiding light, Charlie Banacos.

My playing blossomed under Charlie. I played gigs in Boston for four years and then San Francisco for another four years. I then studied composing and arranging at the Grove School of Music in Los Angeles, and I learned to write for all the instruments of the orchestra in many styles. It was an incredible year of expansion for me. I flourished in Los Angeles for 22 years as a player, musical director, arranger and composer. I did world tours as a musical director with Diana Ross, was a band director for television shows like the Dennis Miller Show, and did many sessions as a pianist and keyboardist for movies.

OJL: What are your musical activities around Portland these days?

DG: I’ve been playing jazz piano around the city since moving here. Some of the artists I have collaborated with include Tim Willcox’s quartet (also known as the Superjazzers), Kate Davis, David Valdez, Chuck Israels, Todd Strait, Gino Vannelli, Damian Erskine, Glen Moore and Gary Hobbs.

I’ve also written music for The Oprah Show, The Dr. Oz Show, video games, documentaries and various recordings along the way. I am considering entering a film scoring program in Seattle that offers a 10-month master’s degree. The program encompasses the skills and technologies involved in scoring for media.

Goldblatt’s albums are available at www.cdbaby.com/m/cd/davidgoldblatt.

Food and travel writer and jazz pianist Kerry Politzer is a recent transplant from New York.

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