Luxury Experience

February 01, 2006 | BY Debra C. Argen

Chris Bergson has the type of deep, throaty, sexy voice that makes you want to curl up and wrap yourself around it on a cold winter night, and makes you long for a cool drink on a hot summer day.

On December 11, 2005, I had the opportunity to hear the Chris Bergson Band perform live at the Rodeo Bar in New York, followed by an interview between sets.

Debra:
Chris Bergson, you have a Bachelor's Degree in Jazz Guitar Performance from the Manhattan School of Music, and in 2002, you were appointed a Jazz Ambassador of the United States of America by the Kennedy Center and the U.S. State Department, which is quite an honor! Can you tell me what that involved?

Chris:
It was a special program that I applied for, and was selected as one of the musicians.

Debra:
As part of this program, your trio toured 7 countries in West Africa giving concerts and clinics about the Blues. What was that like? What did you come away with after that experience?

Chris:
I was touring with a great trio featuring organist Kyle Koehler and drummer Sunny Jain, and we went to Benin, Nigeria, Senegal, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea and Togo.

I?m glad we had the chance to hang out with some of the local musicians in the different countries and also to visit places that might be hard to get to on your own. The West African coast is really beautiful. We visited a slave fort in Senegal, which was a very moving experience. We heard a great drum ensemble in Ghana and it was really interesting how familiar the interlocking rhythms felt to us. It really drove home the fact that so much of Jazz and Blues comes out of African musical traditions. You could really hear how jazz drummers like Elvin Jones or Art Blakey translated the polyrhythms of African drum ensembles to the drum kit. We had a lot of fun jamming with the local musicians ? Blues, modal jams and Charlie Parker were often the common ground.

On another note, it was really moving seeing how a lot of the local people lived. I was hanging out with this local drummer in Senegal and he took me to his hut just a few blocks away from the downtown area from where we were staying, and there was no running water, and there must have been about ten people living in this one dwelling. He had learned to play from listening to the records of drummers Max Roach and Elvin Jones at the school he went to. It was distressing to see the huge and grim dichotomy between the really wealthy businessmen and politicians, and the local people living in complete poverty. There was really no middle class to speak of in a lot of West Africa that we visited. Still, everywhere we went, I was pretty blown away by the devout pride most people exhibited toward their home countries. The local people really wanted to show us the best and unique aspects of their countries and culture.

In Benin, there was a very nice open-air Jazz Club, called So What, after the Miles Davis song, and we had the opportunity to sit in with some of Benin?s great local musicians. There was a really great local bass virtuoso in Benin named Patrick, who had played a lot in Paris. He ended up joining us for a couple of shows.

Though we performed private concerts in each of the countries for the U.S. Ambassadors and Diplomats in the Foreign Service, the best shows we played were always the concerts that were open to the general public. We played a very memorable show at a beautiful theatre in Lagos, Nigeria. In general, the local people were very warm and welcoming and responded really enthusiastically to the music.

Debra:
You wrote all the songs on Another Day except for one. Where do you get your inspiration for your songs?

Chris:
I often get the inspiration and ideas for my songs from real life events and the odd juxtapositions that you can witness living in New York. I?m fascinated by different characters and how different people?s realities collide. I also get ideas from other art forms such as photography, poetry and modern art.

Debra:
Who influences you as a musician?

Chris:
My main influences include Miles Davis, Ray Charles, Muddy Waters, Albert King, Freddie King, B.B. King, The Band, Bob Dylan, Lightnin? Hopkins, John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, Aretha Franklin, Thelonious Monk, Lester Young, Wynton Kelly, Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley, Bill Evans, Jim Hall, Duane Allman, and a lot of the great Delta Bluesmen who usually performed solo with voice and guitar: Son House, Skip James, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Robert Johnson.

Debra:
You have played with some great jazz talents. Who would like to perform with in the future?

Chris:
Gregg Allman, Dr. Lonnie Smith - a jazz organist, Jimmy Cobb.

Debra:
What?s next?

Chris:
I am writing new songs for my next project, and am also working on some big shows and festivals for 2006, and on March 14, 2006, we are back at Jazz Standard in New York.

Debra:
Besides your website, Chris Bergson, www.chrisbergson.com, where can people find Another Day, as well as your other music?

Chris:
My music is on iTunes, Emusic, Napster and CDBaby.com, and at Tower Records.

Debra:
Jay Collins, you play a mean tenor sax, and when you and Chris play together, you are so tight, that it is almost like one instrument being played, as you meet and harmonize your sounds.

In addition to the Chris Bergson Band, you also have your own band, the Jay Collins Band, and regularly tour with Gregg Allman. You have played and recorded with some of the top talent in the music world.

Who influences you as a musician?

Jay:
My music writing and composing is influenced by many things outside of music, poetry is a big one, and local and world events are quite influencing as well.

In studying music, I have been mainly influenced by Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Woody Shaw, Dexter Gordon, Yusef Lateef, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, The Meters, Dizzy Gillespie, Dr. John, Albert King, Eddie Harris, McCoy Tyner, John Coltrane, Mose Allison, Eddie Palmieri, Stanley Turrentine, TomWaitts, James Brown, Steely Dan, Old and New Dreams, Bobby Blue Bland, Bela Bartok, King Curtis and J.S. Bach.

Debra:
That?s quite a selection you have there, and include many of my own favorites, including Stanley Turrentine. Do you have a favorite?

Jay:
I don?t have a favorite, but to the ones above I could add Eddie Jockjaw Davis, Hank Mobley, Clifford Jordan, Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon.

Since I am a saxophonist, horn players were my entry into the study of music, but I listen to just about anything, and only somewhat rarely to recordings by horn players.


Debra:
Matt Wilson, you have been named #1 rising drummer 2 years running in Downbeat magazine, which is quite an accomplishment! You also have your own band, Matt Wilson?s Arts and Crafts Band, and your CD WAKE UP! (to what?s happening) was named top jazz record of 2004.

What draws you about Chris Bergson?s music?

Matt:
I am drawn to his integrity, honesty and presence. When you hear Chris Bergson, you feel the music. You are drawn into his moment. This is what the buzz of jazz is all about. The sensational feeling of being drawn into someone?s world. Chris does that; has you in his world immediately. Chris plays and sings incredibly, but it was the honest and committed conviction that he conveys that is special; that is a great gift and man, Chris rocks!

Debra:
What music do you listen to when not performing?

Matt:
Right now? Johnny Cash (way before it was cool), George Jones, Monk and Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, Howling Wolf, The Bee Gees, Queen, Messien, The Cheetah Girls (with my kids), Roger Miller, Emmylou Harris, Bobo Stenson, Doris Day, and Bebo Valdes and always some Duke Ellington and Frank Sinatra.

Debra:
Chris Berger, you are in great demand as a bassist, and have performed and recorded with some impressive jazz talent, where your short list includes Jimmy Cobb, Jeff ?Tain? Watts and Herb Ellis. I just heard Jeff ?Tain? Watts play in London when he sat in with the Yellowjackets at Ronnie Scotts, and then the following night when he was playing with the Branford Marsalis Quartet at Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Jeff ?Tain? Watts is an amazing, high-energy drummer. What is it like performing with him?

Chris:
I would say that it is a great time. He is incredibly supportive and has a wonderful spirit that exudes positivity. It can also be challenging because he is pushing the music to new places. He has made me play things that I did not think I was capable of playing and humbled me in the same night. I always look forward to the next time I will see him and play music with him.

Debra:
Who influences you as a musician?

Chris:
My influences as a musician are anyone that I play with. More specifically I would say Miles Davis, Ray Brown, Joe Lovano, Led Zepplin, Oscar Peterson.