Sunday, January 6, 2008

Interesting Interview

I came across this today.  A very well done interview with Jerry Bergonzi that covers many topics including transcription and study of the tradition.  Bergonzi explains the idea of following your passion in a way that makes a lot of sense.


J.I.:  That brings me to my next question. You are mentioning the linkage to the jazz 

tradition and when I interviewed Branford Marsalis he made a very strong point about the 

fact that jazz education in the universities generally neglects the necessary attention due 

to the jazz tradition before Charlie Parker and players such as Lester Young, Ben 

Webster, for instance, are not taken in consideration by the young generations. What is 

your opinion on this common approach to jazz education? Where should we start? 


J.B.:  That’s a great question. When I started listening to Sonny Rollins and John 

Coltrane, that was my passion. Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, Dexter and Hank Mobley, 

Stanley Turrentine.... That was my passion, which eventually led me to listen to the older 

guys like Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young. Then I realized the lineage. 

So I always tell young players to follow their passion and if they are really passionate 

about it, they will realize the lineage all the way back, and all the way forward.  So if you 

love Joe Lovano, for example, you’ll realize that Joe Lovano loves John Coltrane, John 

Henderson and Lester Young and you’ll see his lineage all the way back. So I think that if 

you follow your passion you’ll get all of the information. I think that this is better than 

say: “Don’t listen to who your passion is, don’t listen to ‘so and so’, go back and listen to 

Lester Young”. But maybe he is not ready to listen to Lester Young. Lester Young is 

deep, you know; maybe they are not ready for that. 


J.I.: That’s interesting. So you don’t think that the students need to be required to listen to 

the tradition but allowed to discover the lineage by themselves.... 


J.B.: They will discover it. A great musician is going to discover it, there is no way that 

he can’t, it’s not possible. 

I think his comments about allowing a student to follow his passion are important.  I was trying to decide if what I wrote yesterday conflicts with this, and I don't think it does.  It is great to start with who you love. No one ever had to convince me to listen to Trane for instance.  I have always had a passion for his playing, he was one of the first tenor players I ever heard (through my dad's record collection).  Bird, on the other hand, took some prodding.  I tried to get into him early, mainly because everyone said he was important, but his playing just wouldn't grab me the way others would.  I'd come back to him every so often with the same results.  It wasn't until I was into Dexter Gordon's playing (gotten to through Trane) that Bird's playing clicked for me.    

Reading Bergonzi's interview made me think of that and reminded me that evolution is not always a straight line and is not always forward.  I like Bergonzi's approach because the student gets the information when he or she is ready for it.  I couldn't "hear" Bird's music until I was ready for it.  Once I was, I heard it and it grabbed my passion.  If I would have forced the issue, I probably would have a very unhealthy relationship with Bird's music.

As a as a teacher it is important to remember that a student is going to get more out of studying a player that he or she is passionate about while guiding him to check out the lineage that informs that player's vocabulary.

As a student, it's important to remember that it is ok to like who you like.  The artistic road is long and in a creative life one will trace connections forward and backward forever.

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