Skip to content

“Perpetual” Motion: The Venerable Organ Trio of Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein and Bill Stewart Come to Tri-C

Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein and Bill Stewart
Peter Bernstein, Larry Goldings and Bill Stewart

On the surface, Perpetual Pendulum, the new release by the trio of organist Larry Goldings, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Bill Stewart who will appear Sunday at Tri-C follows the comfortingly familiar path established by generations of organ trios. But spend some time with this recording and a world of subtleties reveals itself.

Start with the playing. One school of organ trio practice emphasizes the vernacular, popular roots of the Hammond B-3 organ in the Black church, a tradition that is deep, satisfying and encoded in the DNA of the formation.  Goldings, Bernstein and Stewart, deeply funky players in their own right, honor that tradition while leaning into the urbane organ trio lineage that emerged in the 1960s.

You can find that tradition in the programming of Perpetual Pendulum. There are uptempo post-bop burners by notable jazz composers (Wayne Shorter’s “United” and Gary Bartz’s “Libra”), covers of classic jazz tunes (“Reflections in D” from Duke Ellington’s solo piano recording and John Lewis’ “Django”), a standard (“Come Rain or Come Shine”), several witty originals, including the jumpy, agitated “FU Donald,” and lots of blues. If this sounds like the template for a classic Blue Note session from 1965, you’re on the right track. But the comparison doesn’t stop there.

Like the best releases from Blue Note’s golden age, Perpetual Pendulum showcases a band operating with light-footed momentum and deceptively easygoing precision. It could hardly be otherwise. These guys go back a long way together.

“We started playing in ’89, the three of us,” said Bernstein in an interview. “But I go way back with Larry to ’84. So that’s almost 40 years now.”

That encounter, at a summer music workshop sponsored by Rochester’s Eastman School of music, brought Goldings, a Bostonian, and native New Yorker Bernstein together. “I was going into my senior year in high school, he was going through his junior year,” Bernstein said via Zoom from the stairwell of his New York apartment. building. “Even back then he could play anything. He was polished already.”

A few years later, Goldings was a student at New York’s New School while Bernstein was across the river at William Paterson College in New Jersey. The two musicians encountered each other often in the ferment of the 1980s New York jazz scene and eventually got a regular gig at a club on the Upper West Side. “Me and Larry had a night to play trio and we used to play with lots of different drummers,” Bernstein said “I had thoughts of bringing in Bill Stewart, who I knew from William Paterson, and Larry had met him at a session. I told him, ‘I know that guy. He’s great.’ Bill was able to do maybe three Thursdays in a row, and it felt like, this is cool. We had a good vibe.”

Three decades later, the vibe has only deepened. And it’s no wonder. Perpetual Pendulum is the band’s 13 release. And though all three players are in perpetual demand by artists as diverse as alto saxophonists Lou Donaldson and Maceo Parker, guitarists John Scofield and Pat Metheny and pop artists James Taylor and John Mayer and Cleveland’s own Joe Lovano, they’ve made time for playing together, though not as much as they might have preferred.

“We haven’t really worked steadily until the last few years,” Bernstein said. while acknowledging that the band “would come together every once in a while at the places that would have us–little things along the way to keep us together, but not like a working band that’s been out there on the road for 30 years. We’ve done at this point, maybe 10 year’s-worth of gigs in 30 years.”

In today’s contingent, project-dominated jazz environment, those 10 years add up to a lifetime’s worth of gigs. Even so the band has been largely absent from the Midwest. “We played Milwaukee and the Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis a few years ago, and that was fun,” Bernstein said, “but we haven’t had that much experience playing in the Midwest.”

That’s a curious omission given that the region was once known for the archipelago of rooms stretching from Newark to Minneapolis where the organ trio, sometimes augmented by a saxophone, ruled the music scene of the 1950’s and 1960s. One of the princes of that realm was Eddie Baccus, the Hammond B-3 organ master whose death in January at age 85 brought an era of Cleveland jazz to a close. Sunday’s concert will be dedicated to his memory.

That’s as it should be, but here’s the thing about memories: they’re made every day. And you can expect a few of them to be made Sunday night by Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein and Bill Stewart in Cleveland.


Goldings/Bernstein/Stewart Organ Trio Sunday, April 3, 7 p.m. at Tri-C Metropolitan Campus Auditorium, 2809 Woodland Ave., Cleveland. Tickets, $20, available here.