Photo credit: Hreinn Gudlaugsson/ Creative Commons
"Yeah. That story follows me around," said Jerry Bergonzi to me yesterday during a short telephone conversation ahead of a three-night residency at Pizza Express Dean Street from May 18th -20th.
The story is that when Michael Brecker was asked by an interviewer how it felt, at the peak of his powers and with the world at his feet, to be the king of the tenor saxophone, Brecker replied:
"I don’t know, you’d better ask Jerry Bergonzi."
There is another story which also explains the importance of Jerry Bergonzi, and which features in a sensitively written profile by Rob Adams: when Dave Brubeck needed a saxophonist to replace Paul Desmond in one of the classic ensembles in jazz, it was Bergonzi who got the call. He tells that one slightly differently, namely that it was either him or Gerry Mulligan. That said, Bergonzi did go on to record five albums with Brubeck's group. Some other Bergonzi credits are that he toured with the George Gruntz band, was involved with some of the last concerts by Miles Davis. All this gives some indication of the level at which he works.
These days he has a reputation as player and teacher which is close to legendary. He has lived in the Boston area all his life, and has a teaching post at the New England Conservatory, but is also called upon regularly to do masterclasses and clinics at the other college in Boston, Berklee, and at top conservatoires elsewhere. He even has a whole range of saxophone mouthpieces called The Gonz named in his honour. Bergonzi is in demand and continues to play a staggering 130 gigs a year.
I asked him whether there was any public celebration planned to honour his seventieth birthday later this year and reticence prevailed: "I prefer to keep a low profile with things like that..."
What brings him joy is the continuing work with a cohort of other top-flight musicians: he recently re-connected with bassist Harvie S, a near-contemporary. They once shared an apartment in New York together. "He was kind, he always recommended me." Andy Laverne is another close contemporary who worked with Stan Getz. "I play with him and Frank Tiberi." Other musicians he thinks of as the cohort of contemporaries? "John Abercrombie, Hal Crook..."
And the forthcoming tour of London and Spain? "That's with Bruce Barth, I've known Bruce a long time. He's been on quite a few of my records."
The Gonz is in town. Jerry Bergonzi with the Bruce Barth Trio. May 18-20. DETAILS