Harriet Goldberg is the author of what may be one of the most iconic songs in the world today.
The 74-year-old New Jersey native is, in her words, a “late blooming, part-time musician,” has never played a live gig and is not known to the music industry in general.
But every day since 2017, Goldberg has been playing jazzy instrumentals, “My time to fly” It has been served to countless callers who have been put on hold by customer service lines of businesses large and small. These include Capital One, Delta Airlines, JetBlue, Costco, Nasdaq, the unemployment office in Kansas, the Sagami Railway in Japan, Dartmoor Prison in England, dozens of hotels and restaurants and, yes, the New York Times.
Goldberg’s journey from social work to music queen is an unlikely one. It is the product of a passion that was not acted upon until she was in her late forties.
“When I was a kid, my family got us a free piano,” Goldberg said in a telephone interview from her home in Boston. “My dad wrote songs and played jazz as a hobby. I studied a little classical but mainly played folk, rock and the Beatles – the usual stuff for a kid in the 60s.”
She went on to earn a BA in English from Boston University and a master’s degree in social work, and in her late 30s became a stay-at-home mom.
“In my late forties, my interest in jazz, especially standards and cabaret music, deepened,” she said. “I started making songs based on songs that I liked. I knew my limits and I wanted to find someone who could help me with my writing.”
In search of a mentor, Goldberg turned to an old friend, a saxophonist Billy Novicka student at Berklee College of Music at one time, has appeared in more than 250 recordings, films and television, and has performed with artists including David Bromberg, Maria Muldaur, Willie Dixon, and J. Giles.
“Harriet and I have known each other for years, and our collaboration began very naturally,” Novick said in a telephone interview from his home in Lexington, Massachusetts. “She would show me her compositions and I would make suggestions for tweaking the chord structure and melody and the like.”
After a few years, Goldberg had enough songs to record an album. The result was “Moonlight Back” from 2002, a 14-track collection of acoustic tunes in the style of the lush classics she loved. Novick created the arrangements, booked the studio, engineer, and found the musicians who played and sang on this and four other self-released albums by Goldberg through 2021.
Realizing that there were better chances of Goldberg’s compositions being licensed as incidental music in film and television if they were instrumentals, Novick suggested that she record wordless versions of her songs and, more importantly, the title track for her 2011 album, “My Time to Fly.” To take off this tune on phones, Goldberg gained a foothold by entering a song from her debut disc, “Suddenly You Walked By,” in a songwriting competition sponsored by Billboard magazine. Although she didn’t win a first prize, she was awarded a membership in Taxi, a company that helps composers put music for film and television. By 2008, Goldberg was working with another catalog service, Crucial Music, and began featuring her music on shows, including “Californication,” “Hawaii 5-0,” and “New Amsterdam.”
In 2017, it’s “My Time to Fly”.
“We were working with Amazon, putting music in their movies and TV shows, when they asked us for music for Amazon Connect, a service that runs call centers for tens of thousands of companies around the world, processing 10 million calls a day,” said Tanvi Patel, CEO of Amazon.com. Crucial Music, in an interview, stating that jazz is one of the best genres of music.
Goldberg’s tool is “very optimistic and really swinging,” Patel added. “It sets a relaxed mood for what can be life’s most stressful situation.”
However, Goldberg didn’t know anything about her place at the top of the success parade until 2019, when she heard from one of her collaborators.
“I was on hold with Capital One Bank and heard something familiar,” Novick said. “My first impression was that I liked the sax player, but I honestly couldn’t tell. I listened again and opened Shazam and it was one of the songs I recorded with Harriet.”
While Goldberg’s tune may spin more than any other tune of the moment, it doesn’t win her untold riches. The licensing agreement with Amazon was a buy-in, earning Harriet a “flat four-figure fee” to use in perpetuity.
But the song earned this unexpected late star the crowd — and some money. By releasing them on her own label, Goldberg makes a modest income from streams, downloads, and the occasional CD sales. She’s also getting positive messages from fans via email and her SoundCloud page. The song’s popularity in Japan was even the subject of a skit on the “Tamori Club”, a variant of the Japanese “Saturday Night Live”.
“I’ve had so many great emails from all over the world about the song,” she said. Notoriety is very sweet, especially for a song that is directed at people as they are in what can turn into an unpleasant situation if the wait is too long.
Goldberg added, “It’s especially funny, when I call my bank and get hung up on, and I have to listen to my own music.”
Dane Vannatter, the cabaret singer who appears on the acoustic version of “My Time to Fly”, occasionally performs it at club parties.
“Before he sings it, he picks up his phone and plays the instrument,” Goldberg said. Then he asks how many people have heard the tune. Usually most of the audience though they can’t say exactly where where They’ve heard it.”