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Jerry Bergonzi: Two More DVDs from the Master Educator

Dan Bilawsky By

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There are plenty of stellar musicians who can't teach and plenty of fine educators who lack the skills or know-how to play at a top-tier level. There aren't a lot of internationally acclaimed musicians who are also viewed the world over as exceptional teachers; saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi is one of the few.

Bergonzi has traveled plenty with his horn, playing his own music and backing up bigwigs across the globe, but he's made an even bigger impact in the world of jazz education. He's managed to share his wisdom through master classes, Inside Improvisation—his series of books published by Advance Music—and his in-the-classroom teaching at the New England Conservatory (NEC). But not everybody can attend a masterclass, go to NEC or find their own way through jazz pedagogy on paper, and that's where these DVDs come in.

Bergonzi explored chordal/harmonic nuts-and-bolts on Creating A Jazz Vocabulary Vol. 1 (Jazz Heaven, 2011) and some more complex topics, like modal sequencing, shapes and chord substitutions, on Creating A Jazz Vocabulary Vol. 2 (Jazz Heaven, 2011). Now he returns with two more DVDs that are chock full of different ideas to get the mind thinking and fingers moving.

Jerry Bergonzi
Creating A Jazz Vocabulary Vol. 3
Jazz Heaven
2014

The third volume in this series of instructional DVDs/downloads veers away from heady harmonic discussions and focuses on rhythm, in all of its infinite variations, as a springboard to creation. The subtitle—"Melodic Rhythm: A Rhythmic Approach To Creating Melodies"—says is all, yet barely hints at what's waiting inside. Bergonzi, with some assistance from saxophonist Brian Levy, covers everything from the simple use of quarter notes to complex cross rhythms that both connect and disconnect with the underlying music in fascinating ways; they demystify what the ear has already been absorbing through countless classic jazz recordings over the years.

Bergonzi begins by mentioning a moment where trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie was questioned about what he thinks about when improvising. Gillespie responded by saying that he basically thinks about rhythms and sets notes to them; it's a very simple thing for such a giant of improvised music to say about his work, but it gets to the heart of the matter rather quickly. Bergonzi (and Levy) then explore myriad topics, from using fixed numbers of notes in various mutations to playing consecutive triplets in different manners to implying different time signatures over 4/4. In addressing these topics, Bergonzi simultaneously references the need for consistency and variety in study and performance practices.

At one point in the video, Bergonzi notes that students often lose focus on the specificity of an excercise and over-complicate things because they "lack the ability to stick with the obvious." Truer words have never been spoken. At times like these, it's easy to appreciate the guru/player/theorist balance that exists within Bergonzi's pedagogical approach(es). Play-alongs, PDFs and a sixty minute interview with Bergonzi are the icing on the cake here, but the guided instruction from this master performer/educator is the most valuable part of this package.

Jerry Bergonzi
Saxophone Mastery
Jazz Heaven
2014

The information presented on the Creating A Jazz Vocabulary series is applicable to all instruments, but this disc is sax-specific. Bergonzi breaks down the essentials here, from embouchure and reed choice to tonguing and vibrato, and he has plenty to say. He explores the "no-embouchure embouchure," measures pressure via octave jumps without the octave key, visits altissimo territory and gives a look at overtones. Saxophone players of all levels and educators looking to pick up some choice informational tidbits will find plenty to chew on.

Bergonzi's presentation here is a bit more informal than on his previous Jazz Heaven discs, but it's just as informative. He gives away some "trade secrets," like alternate fingerings and hand positions, that can help aspiring saxophonists and make advanced players see the instrument in a new way. He teaches by saying and showing, with saxophone in hand, and this blend of the aural and visual helps to clarify things as he bounces from topic to topic.

Some teachers tend to deal with absolutes, but Bergonzi isn't one of them. He makes it clear that while some things in music may be set in stone, a lot of it is simply a matter of taste and preference; he addresses both sides of that divide with focus and clarity on these DVDs.


Personnel and Production Notes

Creating A Jazz Vocabulary Vol. 3

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

Production Notes: Director/Producer: Falk Willis; Cinematographer: Mike Doyle; Camera Operator: Greg Harriott; Video Editor: Nate Stephens; Audio Engineer: Dan Stringer; Interviewer: Brian Levy; Creative Advisor & PDF Booklet: Soren Fuhrer; Still Photographer: Mike Doyle; Sax/Piano/Editor/Creative Advisor/Lead Sheets: Brian Levy.

Saxophone Mastery

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

Production Notes: Director/Producer: Falk Willis; Cinematographer: Greg Harriott; Camera Operator: Mike Doyle; Video Editor: Nate Stephens; Audio Engineer: Dan Stringer; Interviewer: Brian Levy; Creative Advisor & Fingering Charts: Soren Fuhrer; Still Photographer: Mike Doyle; Sax/Piano/Editor/Creative Advisor/PDF Booklet: Brian Levy.

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