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Borah Bergman: You Must Judge A Man By The Work of His Hands

By Published: November 4, 2005
AAJ: You've since become "Professor of the Left Hand"!

BB: Well, not really the left hand—it's music. It's a tool that can help you make music a certain way.

AAJ: Do you think it's just another case where in this society in particular, and not just with piano but with most things, that we bring kids up to do things right-handed in our right-handed centric society?

BB: You're right. First of all, the left hand has all the dirty work. And there's no doubt about it. And certain societies have relegated the left hand to do certain things.

AAJ: Talk again about the physical nature of the hand, and because you're using your left hand that there's a certain progression and emphasis with notes.

BB: Very important...The strong fingers are the top of the left hand—1, 2, and 3. That means [plays], the melody notes. What they do with the right hand in classical music, they make special exercises. Because in romantic music for instance [plays], you have to do 3, 4 and 5 which are the weakest fingers, so they make exercises...Chopin did it. Liszt did it. And the meaty part of the hand is at the bottom [plays]...The left hand has been associated with all kinds of experiences. I just found that it was something to do that was my own property.

AAJ: And by your first recording, at what point were you in your left-hand development?

BB: I was pretty strong, but I wasn't strong enough. Probably, but it didn't satisfy me. I was teaching then. I didn't handle the opportunities possibly that I could have had.

AAJ: Have you had many students over the years?

BB: Not recently. I haven't looked for them. But I'm thinking now that I will accept students. I may even advertise... I'm open for teaching by the way folks! Call me up, or send me an email. I have my studio and a Steinway piano...

AAJ: So would you say now that both of your hands, you can equally utilize them, or is your left hand stronger than your right hand?

BB: Well, let's put it this way. Actually when you develop your left hand it seems like it's a more natural hand because when you throw the hand, you're throwing your strong fingers. Also, psychologically, it's like you're going down [plays]. This is going up [plays]...(And) this is one of the reasons a lot of pianists are very limited. They just use these first three fingers [plays]. These fingers on the right hand, the weakest fingers, are very necessary in romantic music to bring out the melodies, but in the left hand the thumb is very strong so that it's more natural. It's what I said before.

AAJ: I remember the first time I saw you perform live, and I had a seat where I could see your profile while you played. And it literally looked like you had two right hands when you were doing these dense runs! Your left hand was moving so quick that it was hard to tell which was your left, and which was your right.

BB: The thing I can do now...[plays] (is) I can play slow now in the left hand, which is really very hard to do...Also when I cross the hands over [plays], I can play with the left hand when it's crossed over into the treble. Basically what it does is that it brings out the feeling in the piano. Because you know the piano can be a cold instrument...

AAJ: Would you ever be interested in doing an album of standards? That would be a very interesting project because there's so many musicians doing standards that basically regurgitate the past, but you would offer a very fresh perspective.

BB: Yeah, I used to play them. I still can play them. I have a whole book...The thing is, I come from what they call "changes." I'm not strictly a "free" pianist. In other words, I know harmony, and I can put my hands on it.

AAJ: Your first four sessions were solo recordings. Do you prefer playing alone? And even though your first four were solos, everything else after that have pretty much been duos, pretty much. Is there a preference between solo and duo?

BB: Well if I was doing lots of solos, I'd want to do duos. Since I did all those duos, I want to do a solo record now... Whatever comes along, I'm going to do it!

AAJ: And with regards to your duo work—is that final Thomas Chapin collaboration your most memorable?

BB: Memorable because Tom was very ill. It's a nice record, but so are some others... I've been told that when somebody plays with me, it comes out differently. I think Roscoe (Mitchell), particularly the second one (The Italian Concert, Soul Note), plays differently, (and is) much warmer. But the reason is, well I can't say—I do feel very confident when I play duo...

AAJ: Is there an added comfort level, playing with horns?

BB: Well, first of all, I learned horn style on piano...So there isn't much a horn player can do that I don't know that he's doing it. Playing with horns, you get a lot of ideas from the horns.

AAJ: Would you ever be interested in performing with another pianist?

BB: Well, depends on the pianist. First of all if someone came and offered me $10,000 to play, I'm not going to say "no," but there's certain pianists that I would find interesting for certain reasons. You know, two pianists don't sound that great together. I mean, I already sound like two players sometimes!

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