All Music Guide

September 01, 2009 | By Richard Skelly

Singer, songwriter, bandleader, and producer Chris Bergson stands out from the large pack of blues guitarists currently on the scene because of his long background as an accompanying jazz guitarist. Bergson's original songs tap into new themes and fresh veins in the blues mine, and his live shows are an artful mix of blues, Americana, jazz, and blues-rock. Given his long background as a sideman jazz guitarist, when Bergson decided he wanted to pursue blues music for a living, it stands to reason his sound would reflect that.

Bergson was born in Manhattan, raised in Somerville, MA, and returned to New York to live in 1995. In his early years in New York, he accompanied jazz singers like Annie Ross, Dena DeRose, Sasha Dobson, and even jazz-pop sensation Norah Jones. Since changing musical directions and making a conscious effort to recast himself as a triple-threat blues and Americana singer/songwriter and guitarist, Bergson has released a trio of excellent recordings for his own 2 Shirts Records label: Blues in 2003, Another Day in 2005, and the brilliant Fall Changes in 2007. His earlier releases include Blues for Some Friends of Mine in 1997 and Wait for Spring in 2000, both for Juniper Records.

Levon Helm, the legendary drummer for the Band, has taken Bergson and his bandmates under his wing (as Helm has also done with the Alexis P. Suter Band), offering them a place to record and making the Chris Bergson Band frequent opening act guests at his intimate Midnight Ramble shows at his studios in Woodstock, NY. Bergson's Fall Changes album was recorded entirely at Helm's upstate studio, and fittingly so, because Bergson has always counted Helm and the rest of the Band as among his biggest influences. Past clients at Helm's studio include the Band, Muddy Waters, Dr. John, Eric Clapton, and Keith Richards. During the recording of Fall Changes, Helm heard Bergson play and promptly invited him to sit in at one of the Midnight Ramble concerts, intimate affairs that can only accommodate perhaps 100 or so patrons. On Fall Changes, Bergson offers up his spry originals with a strong sense of place, i.e., Brooklyn, with tunes like "Gowanus Heights," but also performs innovative covers of familiar tunes like Bob Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece," Ray Charles' "Drown in My Own Tears," and Jimi Hendrix's "Are You Experienced?"

The Chris Bergson Band has already stretched their musical wings beyond the boundaries of Brooklyn and Manhattan to encompass festival gigs at Cape May Jazz Festival, South by Southwest in Austin, TX, the Woodstock Blues Festival, the New York State Blues Festival, and Moulin Blues, as well as other festivals in the Netherlands and throughout Europe. In 2002, Bergson was appointed a Jazz Ambassador of the United States of America by the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and the U.S. State Department. Bergson's trio toured eight countries in West Africa, giving concerts and talks on the blues for local musicians. Bergson and his band continue to tour and record and Bergson remains one of the most inventive songwriters in modern blues music. ~ Richard Skelly