Profiles of Late Style: Larry Gold

Larry Gold is a notable pop-music arranger and producer and founder of Philadelphia’s The Studio. He is also an accomplished cello player. (Photos by Lowell Brown)
“There’s a burning desire to do something…it is my love…this is what I love to do everyday.”

Larry Gold, self-described “orchestrator,” is best known for arranging and producing pop music hits. His client list is a who’s-who of the pop music world: the Roots, Michael Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Justin Timberlake, Jennifer Lopez, Jay-Z and Kanye West.

A native of Philadelphia, Gold showed an early aptitude for music as a child and attended the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music as a cello player. As a student he considered a career as a classical musician, serving as a principal cellist or touring with an orchestra. But any professional musician will tell you how hard it is to make a living that way. While Gold was groomed to be a performance cellist, his career path ultimately led him to the world of pop music.

Gold explains that he always had one foot in the classical music world and the other firmly planted in the soulful sounds of Philly’s music scene. He explains, “I’ve always had this innate ability to understand what a song should be. I had a sixth sense about pop music even when I was a little boy.”

Though unorthodox, Gold’s classical background proved to be an invaluable asset for his pop music career. “I think my cello playing always influenced the way I write… I think I bring a very European/classical stylistic sense to my arranging, even in the context of gospel music. But there were so many things that I learned… I didn’t know gospel music before. I knew Beethoven and Bach and Mozart but I learned rhythm and blues and gospel. I loved it since I was little, but you don’t really learn something until you throw your heart and soul into it…Devote yourself to it.”

Late Style: Depth, Flow, and a New Musicality

At this point in his career, Gold has plenty of experience to draw from and the mastery of his craft has made a few things easier. “I’m more mature. I know music a lot better now. I spent my whole life listening, writing and learning. Technically it’s easier, that’s for sure. But it’s also that I hear more… Right now in my life, a song tells me what it needs. When I was younger, I would hope the song told me what it needed, but it never really did. But now the song tells me. If I listen to it enough, it shows me. Then it’s my own artistry to create the notes that go there. It helps me figure out the emotion….the depth I can get into is much greater than when I was younger.”

Gold continues, “Late style for me is that my ideas flow easier. I can take one song and arrange it 10 different ways. Then decide which way I like better. Generally I might go with my first reaction, but at least I’ll keep working on it. I do variations on the theme and I take different approaches…. when I was younger I never did that.”

Technically, he also is exploring a new sound in his music. “I’m getting more and more into dissonance. I spent most of my life in tonality because most of pop music is very basic tonality… But I’m returning to my roots by listening to a lot of atonal music. It’s easier to understand, because I understand chromatic harmony and I’m a better listener now.”

Returning to His Roots

Gold has passed on the formal ownership and operations of the music studio he founded to others. While he still does projects for clients, he spends most of his days playing the cello again.

He describes this shift back to classical music as being influenced by the changes in the music industry. During a conversation with his son-in-law, he thought about the fact that his whole career had been about writing for others. “So, I made a decision that I would try to really play again. For the last three years I’ve been trying to play three, four, five hours a day. I’m making up a lot of different things and re-teaching myself how to play…and remembering a lot of my childhood things. I’m going through my Curtis manuscripts and I’m enjoying myself.

Gold continues, “I find it challenging. But you know what? I wrote all those years for other people and I never considered myself a composer. I’m more of a cellist than I am a composer. So do I write now when I play the cello? Yeah. I’m constantly making things up on the cello. I’m having fun!”

In many ways Gold has come full circle. But now his music brings with it a wealth of experience and a deeper integration of musical styles. Gold explains, “I’m trying to get my technique back. But I’m definitely a much richer cello player than I was before. I mean, I was always a good singer on the cello so that hasn’t changed much…. it’s more my evolution of learning the great pop music of the 20th century, which was all black music. The history of black music is the history of American music.”

“Let’s See What Happens”

Gold is optimistic about what the future may hold. He remains active and relevant in the music industry and is particularly excited about new opportunities to experiment in the intersection of technology and music.

For Gold, this continued learning and exploring is worth it, “I’ve achieved a certain notoriety that I wouldn’t have to work….but I like working. I’m going to keep rowing the boat. I’m going to see what happens. The safe bet is staying here. The not-safe bet is … seeing what happens.”

The one constant is his commitment to keep learning. He describes his motivation as “a burning desire to do something — playing the cello or listening to a piece of music or looking at a score or writing an arrangement. There’s a desire to do something…it is my love…this is what I love to do everyday.”

The Profiles of Late Style blog series is part of the Departure and Discovery Project led by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society which is supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. Over the next few months, we will be featuring weekly stories that explore a whole range of perspectives on late style and its impact as an altogether universal human experience.