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State College Music Great Arthur Goldstein Dies at 75

by on March 02, 2020 4:54 PM

Arthur Goldstein, a giant of the central Pennsylvania music community who influenced countless others during his remarkable career spanning six decades, died on Thursday at the age of 75.

Known as a revered jazz pianist and composer, Goldstein also was a faculty member in Penn State's music department, a scholar and a piano teacher.

"He had a gentle way about him," said Jerry Zolten, a Penn State professor, music scholar and producer who was a longtime friend of Goldstein. "He also had remarkable depth. A real philosopher. Extremely well-read. He had one of those minds that impressed. He saw things that other people didn’t see and he was able to articulate them. He was deep. That was always very impressive."

Born in Pittsburgh, Goldstein was a talented pianist from a young age, a prodigy who grew up in a home where classical music was the choice. He would eventually happen upon radio stations at the end of the dial that played jazz and R&B.

"That music he was hearing, jazz and rhythm and blues became a part of him," Zolten said. "So whenever he wrote, he was drawing on that music we heard as young people in the 60s."

In high school, Goldstein played in a rock and roll band, The Continentals, which would back nationally touring acts that came through the Pittsburgh area. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, he went to Penn State, where he would earn a Master of Fine Arts. It was in State College where he made his name as a creative force in jazz music and a sought-after pianist whose work crossed genres and extended well beyond central Pennsylvania.

When Zolten first met Goldstein in the late 1960s, Goldstein was playing with a group called the Jazz Spokesmen, who Zolten called "the best musicians in town." Zolten was taken with Goldstein's skills as an improvisational performer.

"When I first met him ... it was all about jazz. Sure he played in rock and roll bands but really it was on the jazz front he made his name locally," Zolten said. 

While he knew Goldstein as a prodigious talent on the piano, it was a long while before Zolten heard his skills as a singer as well, and when he did he was just as impressed. By the early 1980s, Goldstein was fronting his band Archie Blue, joined by top local musicians on his original compositions,  that many in the local music community felt needed to be heard beyond Centre County.

"Arthur, his piano and voice and wonderfully original songs, deserved to have a national audience," Zolten said.

The resulting album, "New Day Comin'" showcases Goldstein's R&B- and rock-influenced songs. It was one of the outstanding achievements of Goldstein's career, and was produced by Van Dyke Parks, the legendary musician and composer known for his partnerships with a who's who of performers, most famously the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson.

"It was a wonderful collaboration," Zolten said. "Van Dyke fell in love with the music and Arthur."

Parks paid tribute to Goldstein Thursday on Twitter.

"Legit Musician Arthur Goldstein stepped off the planet Feb. [27], 2020, but not before he allowed me to arrange his 'Barking At the Moon,' Parks wrote. "A beloved piano professor at Penn State, I will always appreciate his kind regard."

Goldstein recorded and was an in-demand performer throughout his life in State College, playing regularly at area venues solo, with his jazz group Silent Way, his trios and quartets and rock bands Round 2 and Marley. He enjoyed performing classical recitals, too.

Saxophonist Steve Bowman began playing with the Arthur Goldstein Trio in the 1970s at Le Bistro (where Cafe 210 West is today) and continued with the quartet as they played bigger venues, as well as playing on the Archie Blue record. He said Goldstein — influenced by Bud Powell, Paul Bley and Bill Evans — was the visionary of the group and wanted it to be "out of the ordinary."

"He didn't want a group that played standard jazz tunes in a jam session style, but a quartet that featured material not overplayed and with specific arrangements," Bowman said. "Original compositions written by Arthur and other band members were always featured. While the group performed classics of the bop and post-bop eras, Arthur always found unusual and quirky music to challenge his musicians. The band played not only jazz, but music with classical and rock influences as well, from Bach to Bob Dylan. 

"Arthur was an uncompromising leader, who never played down to an audience, and insisted that we stretch and grow as a group.  I certainly matured and improved as a musician under Arthur's guidance for all those years."

Goldstein was also an influential educator. At Penn State he taught jazz and classical performance art and history. He also offered personal piano instruction through the Music Academy in State College. 

"I would venture to say some people, under the auspices of wanting to learn piano, really were just looking to sit beside him on the bench and talk about life," Zolten said. "I’m sure that happened a lot."

Goldstein was both demanding and supportive as an instructor, Zolten said. He took it seriously and wanted his students to do the same. In turn, Zolten said, his students were motivated by his approval, a "good job" from Goldstein well worth the hard work.

"I don’t know how many people in our community ended up moving in a musical direction because of Arthur," Zolten said. "He really influenced countless numbers of locals."

Luke Cimbala, a musician and founder of the local music promoter The Band Junkies, explained in a Facebook post how giving Goldstein was of his insight and talent.

"I always knew who Arthur Goldstein was and recognized him, but had the privilege of getting to know him in the past year," Cimbala wrote last week. "Exactly six months ago today, after watching him play a show, he offered to take me out to dinner. He truly listened and in his articulate classic gentleman way, he naturally began mentoring me with valuable advice.

"I’ve never met anyone quite like him, a real gentleman, a true artist, and a good friend to many. Rest in peace Mr. Goldstein, you had a positive influence on lots of peoples lives."

Zolten cited one of his own experiences seeking out Goldstein's wisdom. Writing about avant garde music, Zolten struggled with how to articulate the unique compositional style of the composer Arnold Schoenberg.

"I think I called Arthur 20 times to try to explain it to me," Zolten said. "He had that kind of brilliance that he could take the abstract like Schoenberg’s compositional style and put it in concrete terms that even I could understand. He had the kind of mind that could go there. He understood on the most profound level these kinds of things."

Those and numerous other examples of mentorship and guidance, along with the music, will be Goldstein's legacy, Zolten said.

"That legacy is indeed a multitude of people young and old whose lives he enriched, whose careers he very well may have shaped and guided," Zolten said. "He planted seeds throughout the community. That’s going to be an enormous part of his legacy, but he also has a body of original music — much of it on YouTube, thank goodness it’s accessible — and so he will live on in his performances and the music itself, which is huge."

"Arthur's influence on music in Central PA is immeasurable and far reaching," Bowman added. "He left his mark on many fine musicians in the area, and was an institution and a guiding spirit that cannot be replaced." 

A graveside service for Goldstein will take place a 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at Centre County Memorial Park. A celebration of life will be announced at a later date.

Memorial contributions may be made to The Music Academy, 2790 West College Ave. Suite 7, State College, PA 16801, or to The School of Music General Scholarship Fund, The Pennsylvania State University, 233 Music Building, University Park, PA 16802.

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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