During the day, he's Mr. Golden, the mild-mannered school librarian who dispenses copies of "Tuck Everlasting" and "Because of Winn-Dixie" to the book-loving kids at Peeples Middle School in South Jackson. Mr. Golden's library is a peaceful world of words, a refuge for literary-minded students from their hectic and often stressful school days. But on nights and weekends, he's Bruce, a jazz percussionist who trades in his Dewey decimals for complex polyrhythm and syncopated beats.
Bruce Golden is an improviser, an experimenter—as he puts it, "a mongrel percussionist" who has "never been too crazy about the box." He works with a broad range of musicians in varied genres. His recent CD, accompanying fellow Jackson musician Rhonda Richmond, is a smooth, melodic mélange of jazz, folk and Mississippi blues. He plays and records with the New York-based jazz group Curlew. When he's feeling particularly experimental, he composes computer-based soundscapes that reflect his affinity for sonic innovators such as Karlheinz Stockhausen.
It may seem somewhat incongruous then, to watch Golden perform on stage with the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra—a "gig" he's held down for the past 25 years. What's this improviser doing dressed in a tuxedo, counting beats and following the score before delivering his premeditated boom on the timpani or snare drum? For Golden, it's all about collaboration, and making music with friends. Even in the orchestra, he explains: "I get the same thing that I get from improvising: camaraderie. I really like the people I play music with."
Golden and his wife, Kristen Brown, a philosophy professor at Millsaps, share their Belhaven home with 15-month-old daughter Harper. Golden offers that he digs some children's music, but then again, "hasn't quite gotten into the Wiggles, yet."
Golden has optimism, which he tries to retain through the rigors of his "daytime gig" at Peeples, his busy performing schedule and the demands of raising a toddler. His secret: "You gotta keep your sense of humor. … I will willingly play the Shakespearean fool if it will illuminate some deeper truth … or not."
In order to stay in character, Golden says he avoids taking himself too seriously. Despite his collaborations with prominent national artists like George Cartwright and Neilson Hubbard, he feels no compulsion to leave his native Jackson, and demurs that he's simply been "fortunate to know a lot of people doing interesting work." In similar fashion, Golden brushes off an inquiry regarding his multiple appearances at the now-defunct CBGB: "It's just the WC Don's of New York."