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Interviews

David Berkman: Anecdotes

By Published: October 15, 2013
The second book, The Jazz Singer's Guidebook came out of my experience teaching singers at Queens and in the Netherlands. I felt that many singers aren't really prepared well for the demands that jazz schools place on them, but if they had a more systematic approach to working on playing the piano, hearing and singing over chord changes, they could develop a more consistent and instrumental approach to jazz study. That book has [fewer] jokes in it, but that might be because the whole book was lost on a defective hard drive and I had to start over, which I did, re-writing it in about 10 days. But I am a kind of obsessive writer once I get at it.

I hope that is a useful book for singers and I've heard from some that say it is, but there are a lot of singers who are not willing or not interested in doing that level of work. They'd rather be intuitive or they are not that interested in improvising over chord changes. That's fine—I don't really care whether anyone takes it on or not—I just felt that if I was going to teach vocalists about jazz and improvisation, I should help them find a method that was geared to their needs as vocalists. That's what that book is.

The new one, Jazz Harmony came out of a trend I was seeing in piano students. Whenever you see a video of an older pianist demonstrating the changes of a tune, whether it's Bill Evans in the video interview with his brother or Hank Jones on Youtube, to cite two things I've seen recently, they play a lot of variations, passing chords, tritone substitutes, diminished chords or diminished passing notes. When you see a young student play changes, they often play the changes they learned from a Real Book. These same students might be comfortable playing in 13/4, but their harmony can be a bit static. So, this book is about a living sense of harmony that you hear in standard playing of people like Cedar Walton
Cedar Walton
Cedar Walton
1934 - 2013
piano
, Mulgrew Miller
Mulgrew Miller
Mulgrew Miller
1955 - 2013
piano
, Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson
1925 - 2007
piano
. In the second half of the book I talk more about non-functional harmonic approaches that you hear in some of these players but also in people like Richie Beirach
Richie Beirach
Richie Beirach
b.1947
piano
and Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
. I've always been fascinated by harmonic color so and I teach a two course series on Jazz Harmony at Queens so this is my take on that.

I'm thinking this book is going to be a big hit and I'm already seeing George Clooney playing me in the movie version, but I may be kidding myself there.

GC: Do you think the "traditional" jazz press is still relevant? Why or why not?

DB: Wow, that's a toughie. I think we have to do what we have to do. Hmmm... maybe that's a little lame as an answer but I don't have a very dynamic relationship to jazz press. I am not much of a consumer of it. It's necessary to try to get your projects publicized—it helps you book more gigs. There are some good writers out there and it's always nice when someone seems to get what you were going for, so reviews can certainly be positive things. I like many of the jazz writers I know, like Neil Tesser, Bill Milkowski, Jim Macnie, Ben Ratliff, David Adler, your good friend Thomas Conrad, Nate Chinen, and Richard Kamins (now you guys have to all write great reviews of my next record!)

However, there's a lot less traditional jazz press than there was. There used to be more articles in newspapers and now there's a lot more on the web. And the presence of blogs like yours and Ethan Iverson
Ethan Iverson
Ethan Iverson
b.1973
piano
are amazing. To have players on your level writing consistently about jazz is truly a great thing. The problem with new media in general is that the reader has to be more active. You have to go out and get it and that can take up a lot of your time, so I am not consistent in reading everything that's out there. I even occasionally miss an installment of Jazztruth I am embarrassed to admit.

Also, with traditional press, a review in Downbeat or the New York Times (or even better, NPR or Entertainment Weekly or something beyond the jazz world) there is a certain status that attaches to that review. I mean, do people still care about that? I'm not sure, but I think the New York Times still has a certain weight in your press kit. So I guess it matters, a little.

GC: Any upcoming projects you want us to know about?

DB: Yes! I will have another David Berkman Quartet record, Live at Smoke 2: Judgment Day coming out next year. I'm not dead set on the subtitle, but it does have a nice action movie feel. There should be some gigs with that band in the Midwest next spring. Also, I have a trio and a solo record in the works and some touring planned around those as well.


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