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Take Five With Jon O'Bergh

AAJ Staff By
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Meet Jon O'Bergh: Known as the "Jedi of Cool," keyboardist Jon O'Bergh refuses to be pigeonholed in one genre of music. He is adept in a variety of styles including rock, jazz, funk, electronic lounge, ambient—the list goes on. During the past five years, Jon has performed and recorded with the nu-jazz/funk/fusion band Gemini Soul. His experience with Gemini Soul led him to fuse his various influences into a new style. The result is Specters of Twilight, his debut album with the Pearl Jazz Recording Label.

With influences ranging from Tori Amos to MeShell Ndegeocello to Nine Inch Nails to Herbie Hancock, Jon will continue to influence the musical landscape with his innovative conceptions.

Instrument(s):

Piano, Keyboards.

Teachers and/or influences?

My music has been influenced by Herbie Hancock, Steely Dan, Tori Amos, Dave Brubeck, MeShell Ndegeocello, Bartok, and Stravinsky.

Your sound and approach to music:

Improvisation. Ideas come to me through improvising and experimenting. It's like taking off down a trail with no map just to see where it will lead.

Your dream band:

I think Gemini Soul was my ideal band. We knew each other so well that we were able to improvise twists and turns in the music, spontaneously go in a different direction with a song. The music was a living and breathing entity that constantly evolved.

Road story: Your best or worst experience:

When I performed with Gemini Soul, we came to dread unsolicited advice from people—comments like "you should add horns," or "the bass isn't a lead instrument." So we recorded all of these annoying comments and used them as samples in a song.

Favorite venue:

Probably the Hedley Club Lounge at Hotel De Anza in San Jose, California. It was had a beautiful ambience with murals, sofas and a huge fireplace, and the management respected musicians.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

Probably the latest CD, Specters of Twilight. It brings together so many diverse styles and defies categorization. It was also fun working on the music, experimenting with different electronic processing tools. There is an improvisatory spirit at the heart of the CD, melodies and passages recurring in different guises, different arrangements—especially when you consider the two versions of the CD, one original and one with remixes.

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

Fragmented—and it's rough for musicians to make a living. I see very talented, well-respected musicians with international reputations playing for very small audiences. And if it's that hard for them, you can imagine what it's like for musicians trying to make a name for themselves. There's also a lot of snobbery among traditionalists who argue over what is and isn't jazz, like those medieval theologians who used to argue over how many angels could dance on the head of pin.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

Improvisation and soul. Everything comes back to that. And the best music in any genre knows how to borrow from other sources and styles. That's what has kept Herbie Hancock's music so vital. Without borrowing, music becomes like a museum, locked in the past.

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