Wake Up, Santa!

In 1972 I won the coveted role of the talking Christmas tree at South Hills Village in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a classic suburban shopping mall whose other highlights were fast food French fries, soft pretzels, and Florsheim shoes.
Illustration by Julia Meloy Goldsby

In 1972 I won the coveted role of the talking Christmas tree at South Hills Village in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a classic suburban shopping mall whose other highlights were fast food French fries, soft pretzels, and Florsheim shoes.

I called myself “Tanya Baum” and spoke with a Hogan’s Heroes German accent. The kids were a little scared of me — I was a blabbering Christmas tree, after all —  but I cracked myself up, which I had discovered was the secret to success in just about any job. 

I made twenty-five bucks for crawling inside the tree suit and yelling seasonal greetings at kids for a couple of hours. My Tanya was a little nasty, she had a slight prison matron edge to her, softened by her coat of fake blue spruce and tinsel. I flicked her lights on and off with hand controls. I could see how much I was scaring everyone by looking through the angel on the top of Tanya’s head.

I got the gig because my dad was the bandleader of a jazz-comedy group called The Steel City Stompers, a popular trio in Pittsburgh with Dad on drums, Ray Defade on saxophone, and pianist Bookie Brown. All three of them sang. 

For years, Dad ran the McDonald’s sponsored “Wake Up Santa” breakfast at South Hills Village,  “Wake Up Santa” became popular after several failed attempts at having Daredevil Santa skydive into the mall parking lot, an annual disaster that once culminated in Santa crash-landing in a tree next to a gas station two miles down the road, where he was rescued by a crane, untangled from his parachute, and transported to the hospital by ambulance. Daredevil Santa wasn’t very good at judging wind currents. Or maybe it was Rudolph’s fault—when all else fails, blame the damn reindeer. The shopping mall officials decided it was  safer to place Santa in a comfy bed onstage inside the mall, with Dad’s band, Tanya Baum, and hundreds of Egg McMuffin-stuffed screaming children yelling for Santa to get the hell up. Apparently, nothing says “Christmas” quite like a snoring Santa refusing to wake up for the holidays.

Santa was played by a stout guy named Tony, who—during the rest of the year—worked as a manager of the shopping mall Baskin & Robbins ice cream shop.  A few years into the Santa gig Tony started hitting the booze, and who could blame him? As a matter of fact, so did Bookie, the pianist in Dad’s band. Bookie, who eventually joined that elite group of juiced-up stride piano players in the sky, had a really LOUD voice. We called him the Acoustic Miracle, because his voice could penetrate any crowd without amplification. With a deep and guttural timbre, he growled his way through songs, announcements, and the occasional prayer. Dad had to turn Bookie’s microphone volume down to minus-two when Bookie was drinking, because you could never be sure what he might blurt or bray across the room. Even Bookie’s whisper had legs.

At one of our annual “Wake Up Santa” events, after we jumped on Santa’s bed, played a trumpet in his ear, slapped him in the face with a wet wash rag (a child’s suggestion), smacked him in the stomach with a pillow (another child’s suggestion—the kids never, ever suggested anything gentle), and tickled his feet with reindeer antlers, Bookie raised his hand—and his voice—and said he had an idea.

“Yes, Grandpa Bookie?” asked Dad with a palpable amount of exasperation and  trepidation, “What’s your idea?”

Bookie, it seemed, had been imbibing with Santa at the local derelict bar down the road. Pre-breakfast holiday cheer. Who needs eggnog when you can have your Maker’s Mark, straight up?

“SANTA, YOU ASSHOLE!” slurred Bookie, in a stentorian tone. “If you don’t wake up, we’re gonna shoot you with the reindeer gun.”

Keep in mind—this was Pittsburgh in 1972. 

Dad, sharp-witted but slightly hard of hearing from years of slamming the drums, put down his microphone, looked right into my angel-head eyes, raised one eyebrow and said: “Did Bookie just say what I think he said? Did he just call Santa an asshole and threaten to use a reindeer gun?”

Jawohl!” said my Tanya Baum, because I took pride in my ability to stay in character. Dad and Ray were horrified, even though most of the parents and kids in the audience laughed. Nervous laughter, but laughter, nonetheless.

“Jesus Christ,” muttered Dad. “Okay kids, never mind Grandpa Bookie—now it’s time for ‘Deck the Halls.’ Bookie, get back to the piano! NOW! Stick out your tongue on the fa-la-la part. And look, kids! Grandpa Bookie is gonna wear the elf hat. Maybe that will wake up Santa.”

This was the last year we played for the “Wake Up, Santa!” breakfast. Not because Grandpa Bookie called Santa an asshole and threatened to shoot him, but because my father, at one point in the show, made fun of the McDonald’s breakfast buffet—all you can eat for two dollars. One bite and that’s all you can eat— and insulted the scary, big-lipped floppy-footed Ronald McDonald clown, played by a local bartender unironically named Jerry Error. In his day job, Jerry often poured bourbon for Grandpa Bookie and Santa.

“Check out Ronald McDonald,” said Dad to the kids after a rousing rendition of “Jingle Bells,” pointing at Jerry Error, who kept tripping over his clown shoes while trying to perform some kind of holiday jig.  “South Hills Village must be missing its idiot.”

“Jawohl!” I yelled. “Merry Christmas!”


Tanya Baum was the sanest part of that show. 

         Forty-five years later I wonder if Santa is still at the mall—sleeping off an early morning bourbon buzz, oblivious to the innocent but violent threats of little kids, and the earsplitting rants of tipsy piano players. The jesting, jabs, and slapstick brutality seemed slightly amusing in 1972. By 2018 these shenanigans will cease to be funny, especially if Santa, the pianist, or an outraged, unhinged parent—or a child for that matter—might actually be packing heat.

I’m sure the live music is gone, even if Ronald McDonald is still stomping around. Maybe the mall has gone back to the skydiving Santa theme, just to keep things edgy. Or maybe Santa now sits in a throne and kids come to perch on his lap while nymphs (or are they elves?) in red velveteen mini-skirts and thigh-high white boots dance to Mariah Carey Christmas songs blaring from speakers covered in plastic holly. Or maybe they blast Santa out of cannon—I’ve read about places doing that. That’s one way to wake up Santa, even if he’s drunk.


Pittsburgh, I came to discover, did not have a monopoly on Christmas insanity. 

         Thirty years after “Wake-Up Santa!”,  my daughter, Julia, was enrolled at a Montessori kindergarten in Germany, and every Christmas, the parents at the kindergarten performed a holiday play for the kids—a civilized, kinder-friendly policy that took pressure off the youngsters and placed it squarely on the sloped shoulders of the parents (moms). Appalled by the lack of suitable holiday plays for kids—most of the material in circulation was scary, religious, or inappropriately both—I sagely decided to write a musical. Come on, Germany—let’s have some holiday fun! Good tidings and cheer!

I needed to attract other parents (moms) to take part in the musical, so my cast of characters included a bunch of whacky fairies, since fairies are cute, entertaining, and provide multiple costume opportunities for those of us longing to relive our prom queen days. I also had access to an adorable rabbit costume with floppy ears, so I added a giant bunny to the cast, along with a narrator dressed as a tree. Tanya Baum, it would seem, was now part of my DNA.

 We had several disabled kids at the kindergarten, so I put the head fairy in a wheelchair, because it seemed like the Christian thing to do.  Fairies and a rabbit may not have been traditionally Christian but they screamed “enchanted forrest,” which is very German. I’m not Christian or German, but I know a thing or two about playing to the crowd.

I needed a plot. Remembering my days with Drunk Santa at the Pittsburgh shopping mall, I decided a snoring, sleeping fairy might be a good starting point. I named her Fatigue. The plot: Fatigue’s fairy sisters—Faxana, Flip, Faloona, and (my favorite) Farteena—spend thirty minutes trying to wake her so they can all fly home together for the winter holidays. They tickle her, yell, use magic wands that don’t work, and try to shock her awake with the smell of a dead fish. Nothing works. Finally, a giant, orphaned rabbit, named Hobo, joins them and wakes up Fatigue with a kiss on the nose. They sing a song and invite Hobo home with them for the holidays. The end.

Basically, Hobo and the Forest Fairies was a fancy-dress, bourbon-free version of “Wake Up, Santa!”

Amazingly, like our disabled lead fairy, the show itself had wheels. Over the course of several years, it was produced as a radio play by Germany’s largest radio/television conglomerate, released as an audio CD, then, and eventually staged as an annual holiday musical at a German castle. What started out as a slap-dash shoe-string budget musical for a bunch of really cute kids turned into a small fairy empire.

The live, professional production of the show debuted in 2009 at Schlosshotel Lerbach, where I was also the house pianist and artistic director of a concert series. To keep costs down and maintain control over my script, I cast myself as Flip the Fairy, a Barbie-blond with good intentions and a brain the size of a cranberry. I wore a prom gown, lavender rubber boots, and a huge wig that made me look more like a country-western has-been than a fairy. 

Julia, who had grown into a relaxed, well-adjusted teenager—in spite of her wand-toting mother—played Fatigue, the snoring, sleeping fairy. My biggest concern during the five-year run of the musical was that she would literally fall asleep onstage. Each year she seemed to skate closer to the edge as the novelty of playing the snoring fairy wore off. 

The show, of course, was in German. Wach auf! means wake up. But my American accent made wach auf sound like fuck off, not a phrase most parents want to hear in a children’s musical.

“Fuck off!” I yelled at our sleeping Fatigue during one of our dress rehearsals. “Fuck off!”

“Mom!” Julia said, sitting up and using her stern teenager voice. “I know you’re really into your role and everything, but you can’t yell fuck off in a play for five-year-olds.”

         Our musical director (the tree) needed to put on his tree suit in front of the kids, because, understandably, the kids freaked out if a mighty oak entered the room and began singing a sensitive ballad. My shrill, slightly sharp, Beverly Sills version of “Silent Night” and the cartwheeling giant rabbit caused more than one child to burst into tears. But the kids loved the magic wands—one of the wands was a Star Wars laser sword—and they flipped over the huge rubber fish and stuffed alligator. And they particularly loved Fatigue, who was already asleep onstage, snoring away, when the kids entered the theater. Some of the kids poked at her and wondered out loud if she might be dead. Julia was actually quite a good actress. 

We had hecklers, and worse. One time a kid in the audience gave me the finger and bit me on the knee during our rendition of the “Stank Fish Tango.” Another time a little girl–who had eaten too many of the complimentary butter cookies—exited stage left and threw-up directly in our entrance/exit path. Sometimes the kids hooted and hollered; sometimes they remained eerily silent.

After each performance our motley crew of fairies — Faxanna, Flip, Flop, Faloona, and Farteena — stood in the castle hall and greeted our guests, most them the same age that Julia was when I wrote the play for her kindergarten. Our run, which lasted long enough to get my daughter through high school without hating me, ended in 2014 when the castle closed. Good timing—my sixtieth birthday was looming, and I was a bit long in the tooth for a fairy costume. I enjoyed tulle as much as the next gal, but the Dolly Parton wig was like having a squirrel on my head and did nothing to help my hot flashes. Also, I had my career and reputation to consider. The fairy thing was taking over. And I really didn’t want to be known as Robin Goldsby, Menopausal Fairy.

Now I look back on that show as both harrowing and full of joy—an American holiday tradition that I swiped and re-invented for myself and my daughter because I didn’t much like the existing models. Festivus for the rest of us!

I cried when I got rid of the costumes. I had seven sets of feather wings and nowhere to fly, so out they went, along with the lavender rain boots. But I saved the rubber fish, because I figured  “Stank Fish Tango” might one day find a place in my act. You never know. Two years after our last performance, a German mother told me wistfully: “Farteena was my favorite fairy. I think of her so often. What a beautiful name.”


There is no stopping Christmas. 

          “Robin,” says Mr. B, the Food and Beverage manager of the five-star hotel where I currently play the piano. “We have a big problem. Santa is stuck in the snow.”

It’s December 2017. I am huddled, freezing in my parked car in Honrath, waiting for the  RB25 train to arrive and whisk me off to Excelsior Hotel Ernst. I’m scheduled to play tea-time piano for a group of civilized adults. In another area of the hotel, thirty excited kids and their parents are arriving for a children’s tea with Santa. But Santa, defying all odds,  is stuck in the snow.

“How is that even possible?” I yell. “He’s Santa! He can’t get stuck in the snow!”

“I don’t know,” says Mr. B. “It makes no sense. But he’s stuck. Can’t get his car out to get to the train.”

I happen to know that the actor playing Santa, a corpulent celebrity named Manfred, lives in my neighborhood, and I am not stuck in the snow, so how can he be stuck in the snow? I don’t want to get Santa in trouble, so I say nothing. Besides, maybe he really is stuck; I live in the valley and he lives high on the hill, two apparently different ecosystems. Sometimes it’s downright tropical in the valley when the hill people are scraping ice off their windshields.

“Do you have any ideas?” asks Mr. B. “We have all these kids coming and they are going to be very disappointed if Santa doesn’t show up. We certainly can’t tell them Santa is stuck in the snow.”

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

 “Who has the Santa suit?” I ask.

“We have it here at the hotel.”

“Good. I know what to do. Move the piano into the ballroom and find an employee to play Santa.”

“No one wants to play Santa,” he says. “They are shy. Plus, they are all too skinny.”

“Get Patrick the waiter,” I say. “He has acting training.”

“But he is the skinniest of all of them.”

“Doesn’t matter. We can stuff him. We also need a bed or a large chair. Someplace onstage where he can sleep.”

Obviously, my entire life revolves around one plot.

On the train ride into town—about thirty minutes—I plan the program. My husband sends me music—over my phone— to a dozen German children’s Christmas songs, all of which, like most Bob Dylan tunes, have three chords and four hundred verses. I stop at the Christmas market and pick up a couple of elf hats, race into the hotel, get Mr. B to print out the music so I can actually see it, and assemble the skeptical banquet team for a panicked talk-through. I tell them that Emergency Santa (Patrick) will be asleep on his giant chair and that we, with the help of the kids, will spend thirty minutes singing and trying to wake him up in time for Christmas.

Ten minutes till show time. I can hear the kids buzzing and jostling for position on the other side of the door.

Movie-star handsome Patrick, my Emergency Santa, might be slightly hungover from the night before, but he’s more than willing to help. Plucked from obscurity to step in for Stuck Santa, Patrick, in his skinny black jeans, looks like he stepped out of a Prada advertisement. Or at least he does until he puts on the red suit. The banquet director stuffs numerous pillows into his jacket and adjusts his fluffy white beard.

“You can do this Patrick,” I say, switching to a Firm Director Voice. “We are going to sing the Santa song, and then you stagger by the window and yawn, like you can hardly manage to carry that big ass sack of toys. This is no time for subtlety. You are exhausted. Wiped out. Can barely keep your damn eyes open. Enter the room, stumble over to the Santa throne and fall asleep. Snore into the microphone as loudly as you can. We will spend the next thirty minutes trying to wake you up. It might get rough—kids can be brutal—but stay asleep no matter what. Until the kiss. Then you wake up.”

Patrick tries to sip coffee through his Santa beard and stares at me like I have reindeer poo on my head.

“You sure this is going to work? I mean, have you done this before?” he asks.

I place my hands on his shoulders, look into his twinkling eyes, and say: “Trust me, Patrick. I’ve been in the “Wake Up Santa” business for forty-five years. It never fails. Wach auf, Santa!

“Ha!” says Patrick. “With your accent it sounds like fuck off, Santa.”

“Exactly,” I say. “Go with it.”

The kids enter the room. I put on my elf hat and play the piano. They sing along and eat cookies. I play the Santa song and Patrick, the world’s skinniest Santa, wobbles, teeters, and lurches past the window.

“Oh no,” I say to the kids. “Santa looks very tired. I wonder what could be wrong.”

Right on cue, the ballroom door creaks open and Patrick, going for gold with his portrayal of a drained and weary Santa, moans and crawls—crawls!—to the stage, dragging his overloaded bundle of toys behind him.

Best Emergency Santa ever.

Wach auf!

Along with a couple of banquet waiters, I drag Santa into his chair. He snores like a drunken elf. We do everything we can think of to wake him. We sing. We yell. We tempt him with over-priced macarons and tap on his head with pinecones from the expensive centerpieces. We get parents to do the reindeer dance. Volunteers from the audience don the elf hat and jostle Santa, to no avail. I really wish I had thought to bring the rubber fish.

Finally, after we reach the thirty-minute mark—the longest half hour of my life—I suggest a kiss and a sweet little boy puts on the hat. Smooch! Santa wakes up. The children cheer. This might be a decidedly upscale group of privileged European children, but really, at this moment they seem identical to their Pittsburgh shopping mall and Montessori kindergarten colleagues.

Kids are kids. Fun is fun.

Ho-ho-ho. Santa might have gotten stuck in the snow, but Emergency Santa, one pillow shy of a proper jelly-belly, has saved the day. After the show, Patrick returns to his glass-polishing post in the kitchen, I return to my Steinway in the posh lounge, and the kids, high on chocolate and sugared tea, head into the winter wonderland, clutching swag bags of candy and small toys.

On his way out, the little boy who kissed Santa asks my permission to keep his cheap, felt elf-hat.

“Of course,” I say. “It’s yours—the holiday chapeau! You saved Christmas for all of us.”

“Look,” he says, pointing outside. “It’s snowing! Santa is going to have a great trip around the globe this year. He loves snow!”

“Yes,” I say. “Let’s hope he doesn’t get stuck.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” says the boy. “Santa would never get stuck in the snow.”


An excerpt from Goldsby’s newest book, Piano Girl Playbook: Notes on a Musical Life. Courtesy of Backbeat Books.

Robin Meloy Goldsby is a Steinway Artist and popular solo piano streaming artist. She is the author of Piano Girl; Waltz of the Asparagus People: The Further Adventures of Piano Girl;  Rhythm: A Novel and Manhattan Road Trip, a collection of short stories about (what else?) musicians. New from Backbeat Books: Piano Girl Playbook: Notes on a Musical Life

The Story

Since 1994, John Goldsby has been a member of the Westdeutscher Rundfunk Big Band (also known as the WDR Big Band or the Cologne Radio Big Band). From 1980 to 1994, Goldsby lived in New York City and was a fixture on the jazz scene there. He continues to contribute to the art form as a bassist, bandleader, composer, teacher, clinician and author.

The son of a Baptist minister, John was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. He played piano, guitar, and electric bass before taking up the double bass at age 18. His early musical experiences include work with hometown jazz greats Jimmy Raney, Helen Humes, and Jamey Aebersold. In 1979, John got a gig with the house trio at a jazz club in Louisville that brought in famous jazz soloists to play with the trio. For almost one year, John played with some of the legends of jazz including: Jay McShann, Buddy Tate, Johnny Hartman, Barney Kessel, Tom Harrell, Dave Liebman, Buddy DeFranco, and others. When this gig ended, John knew he had to relocate to New York. In 1980, he put his bass in the car and made his move.

After moving to New York, John found himself in good company with all of the other young players on the scene. His first experiences with the established New York elite included gigs with Albert Dailey, Sal Nestico, John Hicks, Benny Bailey and Bob Wilber. During his years in New York, Goldsby recorded with many world-class musicians, including Scott Hamilton, Randy Sandke, Michael Brecker, Mel Lewis, Toshiko Akyoshi, John Lewis, and the American Jazz Orchestra.

Goldsby’s most recent recordings as a bandleader include Segment (with Billy Test and Hans Dekker), The Innkeeper’s Gun, Space for the Bass, The Visit, and Live at the Nachbar [all Bass Lion]. The Innkeeper’s Gun and Live at the Nachbar feature a powerful sax-bass-drums trio with Jacob Duncan and Jason Tiemann. The Visit is a duo recording with pianist Bill Dobbins. The John Goldsby, Peter Erskine, Bill Dobbins Trio are featured on the acclaimed album Cologne [Fuzzy Music].

The WDR Big Band records constantly and is featured on many releases, such as: the Grammy-nominated Köln (Marshall Gilkes), Birth of a Bird (WDR Big Band), Samba Jazz Odyssey (Hendrick Meurkens), Blue Soul (Dave Stryker & Bob Mintzer), Homecoming (Vince Mendoza), The Broader Picture (Billy Hart), Grammy-Award-Winning Avant Gershwin and For Ella, from Patti Austin; Joe Lovano Symphonica; Abdullah Ibrahim Bombella; Maceo Parker Roots and Grooves; Big Band Time from Paquito D’Rivera (featuring John’s burning duet “Basstronaut” with electric bassist Oscar Stagnaro); The Latin Jazz Suite, Esparanto, The Jazz Mass, Jazz Goes To The Movies, Gillespiana, Bullit and Mannix from Lalo Schifrin; Pussy Cat Dues with Bill Dobbins, Kevin Mahogany, Charles McPherson, Jimmy Knepper, Dennis Mackrel; Better Get Hit In Your Soul with Bill Dobbins, Jack Walrath, Miles Griffith; Eddie Harris The Last Concert, and Prism – The Music of Bill Dobbins and Peter Erskine.

Goldsby is busy with recording projects as a sideman, like the recent album with Benyamin and Ludwig Nuss (father and son) Nuss-Nuss-Goldsby (Benyamin Nuss & Ludwig Nuss), tenor saxophonist Paul Heller: Special Edition 1, (featuring John Engels and Michael Abene) and Special Edition 2 (with Al Foster and Olaf Polziehn), and the release from Saxophonist Karolina Strassmayer and drummer Drori Mondlak, Joining Forces. Waltz for Worms, Frisky and Live at Le Pirat are swinging, straight-ahead albums with trumpeter John Marshall.

Feed the Birds, The Shimmering Colours of Stained Glass, and The Underwater Poet with pianist Hubert Nuss, Ups and Downs with trombonist Ludwig Nuss, and guitarist Joachim Schoenacker’s Blunatic are among albums which feature John. Behind Closed Doors with Peter Erskine, The Chase with Randy Sandke, An Ellington Affair with Bill Mays, Big Man’s Blues with Andy Fusco, and The Return of the Great Guitars (Herb Ellis, Larry Coryell, Mundell Lowe, and Charlie Byrd) are among other noteworthy recordings. Three critically acclaimed records with the Frank Vignola Trio are Appel Direct, Let It Happen, Look Right, Jog Left and Off Broadway.

In 2000, John Goldsby recorded Viewpoint, which presents a combination of original material and standards, featuring some of the best musicians on the European scene today: Frank Chastenier, Hans Dekker, Olivier Peters, John Marshall, and Hayden Chisholm.

Tale of the Fingers is the premier recording of the John Goldsby Quartet from 1993. The other musicians on this Concord Jazz CD are Bill Mays (piano), Terry Clarke (drums), and Andy Fusco (alto). This recording features two compositions by Mr. Goldsby as well as rare works by Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, Oscar Pettiford, Paul Chambers, and Sam Jones. A highlight of the recording is the classic-meets-jazz masterwork “Three Short Stories for Bass and Piano” by Bill Mays.

Other notable performances include “The Tonight Show” with Claude Bolling and Hubert Laws, the Grammy-Award winning soundtrack for “The Cotton Club,” and work with Wynton Marsalis, Gunther Schuller, Lionel Hampton, and the Smithsonian Masterworks Orchestra. Goldsby has performed at the JVC Jazz Festival, the Chicago Jazz Festival, and the Odessa Jazz Festival among others in addition to tours of Europe, Japan, Canada, and the United States.

The Village Voice says that John Goldsby is “One of the few bassists steeped in the tradition of Jimmie Blanton and Oscar Pettiford.” The New York Times says “John Goldsby’s bass playing was spectacular . . . the rhythm-section contributed some of the most vivid passages to the concert.”

John Goldsby is well-known as a jazz educator and currently teaches at the Maastricht Conservatory (NL). He has also taught at the Folkwang Hochschule in Essen, Germany, Cologne Musik Hochschule, William Paterson College, Long Island University, and Columbia University. He has given jazz workshops all over the world, most recently in Sligo, Ireland, London, and Graz, Austria. Goldsby has taught at Jamey Aebersold’s Summer Jazz Clinics since 1980, and he has recorded many educational jazz records for Mr. Aebersold.

The Jazz Bass Book is Mr. Goldsby’s classic work, documenting jazz bass players and their techniques from a historical perspective. This first-of-its-kind work is filled with transcriptions, historical and technical information, discography, and Goldsby’s insightful and inspiring writing. A play-along CD (or online files) is included for the reader and student to use with written etudes, patterns, scales, and improvised solos and bass lines. Also on the CD are several performance tracks for listening or play-along. The CD features Goldsby on bass along with the masterful assistance of Bill Dobbins (piano) and Hans Dekker drums).

Mr. Goldsby has written two other instructional method books, Jazz Bowing Techniques for the Improvising Bassist and Bass Notes. Bass Player magazine says, “Bass Notes is an excellent resource for intermediate to advanced jazz bassist.” The National Association of Jazz Educators says, “Bowing Techniques should be a required publication for upright bassists!” Goldsby is a disciple and master of the Paul Chambers school of jazz bass playing, and spent many years perfecting his own style of arco (bowed) jazz playing. Through private study with Dave Holland and Michael Moore throughout the ‘80s, Goldsby codified and honed the techniques of arco jazz. Goldsby perceived a gap in jazz bass pedagogy in the area of arco technique, and published his first book Jazz Bowing Techniques for the Improvising Bassist in 1990.

John Goldsby has filmed four superb courses at Discover Double Bass that cover all the essential learning for any jazz bassist looking to improve, whether that’s in bass lines, solos, ensemble playing, or technique. In 2019, John filmed Jazz Bass Vol. 1 (Building Up) and Vol. 2 (Stretching Out) which offer a collection of lessons for intermediate to advanced players. In 2020, John came back to produce two more courses – one on soloing: Tell Your Story and the other on walking bass lines: Lay it Down.

John currently writes for Bass Magazine Online: The Future of Bass. From 1990 until 2019, Goldsby was a featured writer for Bass Player Magazine with his columns “The Tradition,” “Mastering Jazz,” and “Jazz Concepts.” The print magazine morphed into the online magazine in 2019, and Goldsby continues to contribute workshop columns. Goldsby has also written for Double Bassist Magazine, The Strad, and the International Society of Bassists Journal (ISB).

In 2009, Goldsby was awarded the International Society of Bassists Special Recognition Award for Scholarship, a biennial award recognizing players and scholars who contribute their special talents, knowledge and support to furthering ISB ideals. Goldsby received jazz performance grants from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1988, 1990, and 1993. The “John Goldsby Plays Oscar Pettiford” concert, which was funded by the 1990 grant received much critical acclaim from the New York Times, Jazz Times, and the Village Voice.

John Goldsby is currently working (or has worked) with the WDR (Westdeutscher Rundfunk) Big Band on projects with artists such as Bob Mintzer, Vince Mendoza, McCoy Tyner, Joyce, Nicholas Payton, Dick Oatts, Francesco Cafiso, Clarke Terry, Gary Bartz, Eddie Henderson, Phil Woods, Mike Manieri, Jon Faddis, Alex Acuna, Paquito D’Rivera, Jack Walrath, Bernard Purdie, Gil Goldstein, Ray Brown, Christian McBride, John Clayton, Peter Erskine, Jeff Hamilton, John Riley, Dennis Mackrel and arrangers such as Rich DeRosa, John Clayton, Maria Schneider, Pedro Giraudo, James Darcy Argue, Vince Mendoza, Bob Brookmeyer, Bill Dobbins, and Michael Abene.

Goldsby is an inquisitive scholar, constantly studying, documenting, and codifying jazz bass styles, techniques and players. He seeks to understand the aesthetic foundations and structural development of jazz bass playing in order to define the state of the art. Goldsby heartily endorses trumpeter Clarke Terry’s educational maxim: “Imitate, emulate, innovate.”

The WDR (Westdeutscher Rundfunk) is the television and radio station in the Nordrhein-Westphalia area of Germany. It is run as a “public” radio station, but with a much broader scope than the PBS in the United States. In addition to the Big Band, the WDR also employs two full-time symphony orchestras and a choir. John was born Dec 10, 1958 and currently resides in Germany, near Cologne, with his wife Robin.