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Interviews

David Berkman: Anecdotes

By Published: October 15, 2013
Still, at a certain point I got more serious. I went to Berklee for a few semesters when I was about 20. I had always been the best jazz pianist my age at least that I knew (or one of the best) but when I got to Berklee I realized I had a lot to learn. I studied with a teacher there who was kind of a jerk, but I worked hard. And I heard students like Dave Kikoski and many others and I started to measure myself against a much higher standard. Also, I was very fortunate to have Bob Mover
Bob Mover
Bob Mover
b.1952
saxophone
, the great alto player, as an ensemble leader. He took me around to sessions and just hung out with me. Actually, it was after a Bob Mover gig that I finally decided to become a full time jazz pianist (I was an exchange student at Berklee and I was still going for an English Literature degree at the University of Michigan at the same time.) I had just heard Bob play with pianist Albert Dailey
Albert Dailey
b.1939
and I was walking home at 3 in the morning and I said to myself: I could just keep doing this—practicing, playing, and hearing music. I'd always assumed that at some point I'd have to stop and get a real job. That was a kind of epiphany for me.

One last thing; in addition to the jazz teachers that I was studying with at Berklee, I began studying classical piano technique a lot more seriously and that continued for the next 12 years or so.

GC: How important was moving to New York City to your musical development?

DB: Extremely. I had always thought I'd move to New York. I liked all of it—the urban-ness, being able to hear all of your musical heroes any time, Brooklyn, the vibe, the all-night hanging out. I think there was a lot more of that in NYC in the past, but it might be I am aging out of the all-night hanging club. I was living in Cleveland and playing gigs from age 21 or 22 to 25 or so. I got to work with older players there that showed me a lot of things, people like Jamey Haddad, Greg Bandy
Greg Bandy
Greg Bandy
b.1949
drums
, Bill DeArango
Bill DeArango
b.1921
, and Willie Smith—a fine alto player, but not the more famous Willie Smith. A lot of those musicians were amazing, but the bands never really sounded right, or I should say, they often didn't. There weren't enough strong players on every instrument. There might be a great swinging bassist, but he might not want to read, or the drummer that you hook up with really well couldn't make the gig and you only had a few other choices. I was really into bebop back then, trying to play like Bud Powell
Bud Powell
Bud Powell
1924 - 1966
piano
and then later Wynton, but maybe the drummer was more of a funk guy and there was an electric bassist on the gig and you are trying to play "Bouncing with Bud" or something.

When I got to New York, I was suddenly part of a rich jazz community. There were people my age, older and younger that would come over and play sessions and there were people into exactly what I was into musically. And as I moved through that community, I found people that I felt more and more connections with. First players like Rich Perry, Andy Watson, Eliot Zigmund, and Tony Scherr, and later Joel Frahm
Joel Frahm
Joel Frahm

sax, tenor
, Matt Wilson
Matt Wilson
Matt Wilson
b.1964
drums
, Chris Cheek
Chris Cheek
Chris Cheek
b.1968
saxophone
, Brian Blade
Brian Blade
Brian Blade
b.1970
drums
, Ugonna Okegwo, Dick Oatts
Dick Oatts
Dick Oatts
b.1953
saxophone
, and on and on. I formed bands with people, wrote music and played other people's music and of course still do all that. The names keep changing, but the wonderful thing about living in NY is that almost every time you go to play a gig or a jam session, you might meet someone that could become a close musical partner down the line. The next person that will show you something that you need to pursue on your own musical path. That doesn't happen as much in other places, I don't think.

GC: How do you juggle your career as an educator and a performer?

DB: Well, I am glad that I wasn't an educator for a substantial period of my life in New York. I was lucky to be here and play and struggle and it helped that I had a cheap apartment and I didn't really mind about not having any money. I started teaching more about 10 years ago and I was willing to sacrifice some of my practice and playing time to worry less about money. And I do really enjoy teaching and helping younger players get clearer about how to grow as musicians. But I was already over 40 then, so it felt like a good exchange. I am also very fortunate to be teaching in a great place, at Queens College in Flushing with Antonio Hart
Antonio Hart
Antonio Hart
b.1968
saxophone
and Michael Philip Mossman
Michael Philip Mossman
Michael Philip Mossman
b.1959
trumpet
. I've been here for two years and really like the program and the faculty.


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