Roger Rosenberg: Baritone Madness
The late seventies found Mr. Rosenberg holding court in cathedrals of the night, like Strykers' on New Yorks' upper west side, where he played backup with fallen angel Chet Baker. There in an elongated, narrow and darkened room, Chet conducted what some recall as a late night music laboratory where younger players could come and learn from the once "Gabriel"-like trumpeter. Sitting in the rear of the bar with his cob-webbed boots, his weapon of choice (his trumpet), and his wild-west demeanor, Baker did not inspire confidence among his musicians when it came to matters of finance.
Rosenberg; "He was quiet, very quiet and we didn't talk about music much...I was with him for a couple of years and toured the country, played the Village Vanguard with him a bunch of times... Chet was going to Europe and I was kind of nervous at that time, I was kind of uncomfortable with the idea of being in Europe for seven weeks, away from my wife, and not feeling sure ...I didn't want to go and not be sure I'd get paid enough money to get back!."
His playing with Chet did produce a live album, Chet Baker Sings, Plays-Live at the Keystone Korner (High Note records 2003), in which Baker records with the aforementioned band from "Stryker'" and Rosenberg lays down some impressive playing on baritone and some very ethereal and haunting soprano work on pieces like "Broken Wing."
In the early eighties, weary of the road and desiring to be closer to home, his wife and his new-born baby boy, the saxophonist decided to expand his sound on soprano, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon and tenor, in addition to studying composition, all in an effort to land more work both in studios and on Broadway. At this time, his most successful effort and the one he's most proud of was, The Lena Horne Show.
Fellow musicians and word of mouth brought him studio work on John Lennons' Double Fantasy (Capital 1980) and Elvis Costellos' North (Deutsch Grammophon 2003) along with commercial sessions of every stripe. It was through tenor great Lou Marini however that the saxophonist would receive a fruitful and treasured introduction to Steely Dans' Donald Fagen who at the time was assembling musicians for his solo effort, Kamarkiriad (Reprise 1993). Produced by fellow Steely Dan founder Walter Becker, this project created friendships that would eventually lead Rosenberg to prized work, both in the studio and on the road, with the duos progressive, jazz based band.
After years of meandering in and out of his true passion for Jazz, Mr. Rosenberg decided it was high time for a serious solo Jazz effort and released his first CD, Hang Time (Jazz Key Music 2001). A mix of originals and standards, Hang Time is an exuberant display of stellar composition and playing from his Bop-like odes to Coltrane, "Trane Dance," to his unique approach to classics such as "Autumn in New York."
Another solo effort, Baritonality (Sunnyside 2009), was produced by Walter Becker and captured by engineer extraordinaire James Farber. Recorded during a couple of hard driving marathon sessions, the cd further showcases Rosenberg's writing and playing ensuring the deeper exposure the horn man rightfully deserves.
Mr. Becker relates his first impressions of the saxophonist, several years ago, during a Steely Dan recording session; "We were rehearsing and during a pause Roger started playing on his own, I thought, 'wow, this guy can really play.'" And that's exactly what he has been doing on the road for Steely Dans' past several tours including 2009s,' "Rent Party Tour.."
Back in his apartment, lights glowing in the city below, Rosenberg leads a reporter over to a glass framed, gold record awarded to Steely Dana recording he performed on. Standing before the record, his image clearly reflected, Rosenberg says; "They (Steely Dan) sent these to everyone who worked on the album, that's the way they do things, first class all the way!." And so it is with Roger Rosenberg.
Studio photo on page 2 by John Coltelli