Goodbye Borah

Dom Minasi By

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Borah and I were at our best when we disassembled a jazz standard. When I think back to those times I can't believe we actually played some great music together despite the difficulty. There were times he would taunt me with, "You know what they are saying about you?" Or, "You're not an avant-garde player, you're a more of a modern player," or "A lot of musicians don't like the way you play." He could go on and on, but I know that was nothing compared to what he would say to other musicians, like, "You stink" or "Go home and learn how to play." Borah had no patience for "almost." If you wanted to play with him, you better play and play at your best all the time. There was no such thing as warming up. You'd start at 150 miles an hour and go up from there. He was relentless. He could play a slow ballad with lots of feeling but, in the midst of the piece, he would come out with bursts of sixty-fourth notes and shatter the mood. Musically it's as if his mind was in a race going in all directions at the same time, and whatever musical idea got there first he played.

One time he was especially abusive about everything. He was angry and aimed his anger at anyone in his near vicinity. Unfortunately, that day it was me. After a few minutes of playing and his barking at me, I stopped. I looked at him and told him "Who do you think you're talking to? You know Borah, I've had enough. Go fuck yourself, I'm done. I don't care how great you are, this is not worth it." I packed up and left. In all the time we had played together I had never lost my temper with him, but this time he went too far. That night he called and spoke to my wife first and then me. He was very apologetic and seemed truly sorry. I forgave him and we went back to playing again, and he backed off a little.

There were times I was truly worried about him. Once I called the doorman in his building because he wasn't answering his phone all day. It turned out he was on some new drug that put him to sleep. He very rarely went out, so I felt he had to be looked after at times.

In 2006 I recorded The Vampire's Revenge (CDM). This was a double-disc recording with almost two hours of free and written music, with a conductor. It gave me a chance to expand my writing and use different groups of musicians in developing a story line that went with the title. "Blood Lust" was the longest piece on the record. It was over seventeen minutes long and was recorded at two different studios with three different groups. There were sections for a large group, duo and septet. The duo section featured Borah and myself playing free for about three-and-a-half minutes. I told Borah about the project months before and asked him if he would do it. He agreed. The day of the recording I picked him up and brought him to the studio. When I record, I prefer using headphones because I like to plug in directly into the board, but Borah wouldn't use headphones and he also told me which guitar he preferred me to use. The setup with the amp was a little uncomfortable for me, but it would be worth it to have this man on record.

We played a little, just for the sound, and when we were ready to record, Borah took out a watch and laid it on the piano. We started with a burst and kept going non-stop and, at exactly three minutes, we started to build to a climax and, thirty seconds later, we stopped with an accented note. There were no signals or head nods. After spending so much time playing together we instinctively knew when to stop. I was satisfied with the first cut, but Borah was such a perfectionist he wanted to do it again. Since I was the leader and paying for this, I told him absolutely not. If I left it up to him we would be there all day and never get it as good as the first cut. The reviews would later prove me right.

As the years went by we kept playing together, but Borah's physical and mental health were in decline. It seems the older he got, the more difficult he was to get along with.

A few years ago I had some health problems and I didn't have the energy to deal with Borah and his negativity. I needed to be around positive energy and, although the music with Borah was positive, his negative personality would have brought me down and I needed to heal. Every once in awhile we would talk on the phone, and the last time I saw him was at a benefit I was performing in the winter of 2010. We talked for a while and promised each other we would play together soon, but it never happened.

Last year, violinist Jason Kao Hwang, who befriended Borah too, called to tell me that, because of his declining health, Borah had moved to Baltimore to live with his sister. I called him. He could hardly remember me. It sounded like Dementia or Alzheimer's disease. I realized that all this time Borah's abusiveness might have been the escalation of the disease.

On October 18th 2012, Borah died. That same day I thought about him and said to myself I should call, I hope he's OK. A few hours later I got an email from Jim Eigo that he was gone.

Jason started a Facebook page for Borah and, surprisingly, hardly anyone has posted or made a comment. Musicians from all over the world would clamor to play with him and yet it's as if he's already forgotten. I haven't and I never will.

Although Borah was a lot to put up with it, it was always a thrill to play with him. There were times we talked about recording a CD together, but that never happened. It should have because it would have been a remarkable recording.

It is very rare to be in the mist of genius, but when you are, it is amazing. I am sad that he is gone. Because of him I am a better player and as hard as it was, I would do it all over again.

Goodbye Borah. Rest in peace.

Photo Credit

Scott Friedlander
About Borah Bergman
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