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Jerry Bergonzi: Two DVDs from the Master Educator

Dan Bilawsky By

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Tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi has spent decades honing his skills and he has the discography to prove it. Strong solo dates on the RED, Double-Time and Savant labels, along with notable sideman work with legends such as pianist Dave Brubeck, have earned him the respect of his peers and the reputation of being a no-nonsense force of nature on his instrument, but his best work may take place in the classroom.

Bergonzi has been codifying and passing along his hard-earned wisdom since he began teaching in the early 1980s. Students flock to the New England Conservatory to have the opportunity to study with this master teacher/player and now, thanks to Falk Willis' Jazz Heaven.com series, his knowledge is within reach of anybody who has a DVD player or downloading capabilities. While Willis has tapped a diverse cross-section of singular artists to share their insights and methodology, Bergonzi is the only one who was given two DVDs worth of space and it's easy to see why. Bergonzi manages to find balance between the too-narrow vs. too-broad issues that surround many instructional products and he uses an easy-to-understand, theory-based approach to teaching.

Jerry Bergonzi
Creating A Jazz Vocabulary Vol. 1
Jazz Heaven
2011

While Bergonzi kicks things off with saxophone in hand, he spends the majority of this DVD behind the piano. He explains and demonstrates his concepts, leads saxophonist Brian Levy through exercises, and fields questions from Levy that help to provide added clarity and direction. After covering the essential chord tones in jazz, he explains a variety of concepts and techniques to use in developing a vocabulary. Bergonzi begins by discussing chord scales, as he takes Levy through a variety of permutations (i.e. running 1 up to 7, 9 down to 3, or 5 up to 11), and touches on important topics-such as avoid notes and the importance of the first, third and seventh in defining a chord-along the way.

Bergonzi stresses the importance of knowing the changes in a song, as he guides Levy through the process of using chord tones, whether one or many, to form a speech pattern on his instrument, and things progress quickly from there. A brief discussion of visualization and ear training become food for thought as Bergonzi and Levy dive into topics like approach notes, limited-range playing vs. wide-range playing, upper structure triads and anticipating chord changes. As the meat-and-potatoes portion of the DVD comes to an end, Bergonzi makes a good point in explaining that what-or who-somebody listens to, what somebody practices, and who somebody plays with will, ultimately, determine what type of player they become, but that's not the end of the disc. An hour-long interview allows for an in-depth look at Bergonzi's life and guiding philosophies.

Jerry Bergonzi
Creating A Jazz Vocabulary Vol. 2
Jazz Heaven
2011

While anybody with knowledge of scales and the principles of chord structures can benefit from the wisdom that Bergonzi shares on the first volume of Creating A Jazz Vocabulary, this disc goes a bit beyond, making it more useful for students who are further along in their studies. Modal sequencing, shapes and chord substitutions are the order of the day on this DVD, which features the same man-to-man-to-audience type interactions that worked so well for Bergonzi and Levy on the first volume.

Some of Bergonzi's own tunes, based on the changes to standards, allow him to put many of his ideas into motion on both DVDs, and his ability to focus in on specifics, while simultaneously touching on big picture ideals, are part of what makes him such a fine educator. On this disc, he makes it clear that melody can trump harmony in many situations, you have to be selective in focusing in on what to practice, and "it's not what you play," but rather, "how you play it."

While Bergonzi deserves great credit for bringing clarity to topics that are occasionally shrouded in mystery, he deserves even more praise for his ability to teach that we can, essentially, teach ourselves if we simply work from the ground floor up. The information that he shares on these DVDs will unlock a lot of doors, but he leaves the task of walking through them to those who are willing to move forward.

Personnel and Production Notes

Creating A Jazz Vocabulary Vol. 1

Personnel: Jerry Bergonzi: piano, saxophone; Brian Levy: piano, saxophone.

Production Notes: Director/Producer: Falk Willis; Cinematographer: Greg Harriott; Camera Operator: Mike Doyle; Video Editor: Todd Nilssen; Audio Engineer: Michael Messier; Interviewer: Brian Levy; Audio Mix/Master: Dan Stringer; Still Photography: Mike Doyle; Original Artwork: Zoe Matthiessen; Editor/Creative Advisor/PDF Booklet: Brian Levy.

Creating A Jazz Vocabulary Vol. 2

Personnel: Jerry Bergonzi: piano, saxophone; Brian Levy: piano, saxophone.

Production Notes: Director/Producer: Falk Willis; Cinematographer: Greg Harriott; Camera Operator: Mike Doyle; Video Editor: Todd Nilssen; Audio Engineer: Michael Messier; Interviewer: Brian Levy; Audio Mix/Master: Dan Stringer; Still Photography: Mike Doyle; Original Artwork: Zoe Matthiessen; Editor/Creative Advisor/PDF Booklet: Brian Levy.

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