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Jerry Bergonzi - Wiggy

DTRCD - 173

Jerry Bergonzi - Tenor Sax, Dan Wall - B-3 Organ, Adam Nussbaum - Drums

1. Just In Time
2. Wiggy
3. Inside Out
4. A Different Look
5. Channeling
6. Comitted
7. New In The Neighborhood
8. Doing The Tron
Total Time (52:07)

Listen to CD Tracks

     "Whenever I hear an organ and drums, I hear the tenor saxophone, even if no tenor player is there," notes Jerry Bergonzi.  We're speaking about Wiggy, the third consecutive turbo-charged Double-Time release [see Just Within (DT-127) and Lost In The Shuffle (DT-142)] on which he, master-of-all-genres organist Dan Wall and trapset wizard Adam Nussbaum, address with authority, no-holds-barred imagination and nitty-gritty interplay a varied program of tricky Bergonzi originals and ingeniously reconfigured standards.

  The saxophone master knows the venerable tenor-organ function from both sides of the fence.  "Every weekend when I was in high school," the Watertown, Massachusetts, native recalls, "a friend named Jimmy Cameron, who is a fantastic tenor player, used to drive from Providence, pick me up in Watertown, and we'd drive to Manchester, New Hampshire -- and I was the organ player.  I used to play a B3.  Now, I think, 'Man, how would I even play the organ?'  I can't really remember doing it.  But I did.  Of course, I completely flip over all the Larry Young records, or Stanley Turrentine with Shirley Scott or Jimmy Smith, Don Patterson with Sonny Stitt or Gene Ammons with whomever."

 A born improviser, Bergonzi gravitated in early years to the piano, an instrument at which he remains proficient.  As a youngster he had four lessons with the legendary teacher Margaret [Madame] Chaloff (mother of baritone sax innovator Serge, whose private students included George Shearing, Steve Kuhn, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett) which continue to impact his approach.  "Though I didn't do much, it was amazing," he relates.  "I did Bach's Two-Part Invention where I'd play the left hand on the piano, play the right hand in the air with my fingers while I sang the notes, or even say out loud what the notes were.  Without my realizing it, it got me to visualize the music in my mind, which is a tool I've used a lot.  Being on the road as much as I've been, I practice all the time, but without the instruments -- just visualizing."

 Bergonzi's earliest inspiration was his uncle, a trombonist-guitarist-bassist-arranger named Sparky Thomasetti who played in swing bands around Beantown, and lived in an apartment upstairs from the youngster.  "I started playing early, 8 years old," says Bergonzi, "and he used to write me out solos on tunes.  I'm not sure if it was because of him or not, but I was listening to jazz right from that age.  Thinking back, it must have had some kind of impact."

 Bergonzi progressed quickly, and by 10th grade was performing in clarinetist John LaPorta's Youth Orchestra at Berklee School of Music.  During his teens Bergonzi also learned how to play the bass and the drumset; by college he was a gigging bassist, "playing six nights a week, paying the rent and learning tunes -- I saved up enough money to move to New York City.  Hearing bass lines, improvising them and making them just right helped my ears, made me hear the changes in a deeper way.

 "Playing drums, I always feel connected to the rhythm section, and I try to get as deeply inside the time as I possibly can.  I feel like I sometimes take the role of the drummer, and I play in the cracks, making the time sound animated.  I'm able to approach the time polyrhythmically, to play across or against it, to put different feelings on the time that's happening, whether it's in 4 or 2 or 1."

 He continues: "What I think distinguishes musicians of my age from slightly younger ones is that we didn't differentiate.  The music was coming at us so fast -- the avant-garde, the Miles Davis Quintet with Wayne, Art Blakey with Wayne and Freddie Hubbard or Lee Morgan, or Sonny Rollins, and then Miles going into the little fusion area.  It was all great, and I think there's little bits and pieces of all of it in me.  I'd come home one day and listen to Albert Ayler records and say, 'God, this is so amazing,' or listen to 'Ascension' or 'Cosmic Music' or 'Om' or 'Meditations.'  Then the next day I'm listening to 'Blue Trane' or Sonny Rollins' 'Newk's Time,' or a Joe Henderson record, or 'Unity' with Larry Young, or 'Ju-Ju' with Wayne Shorter, or Stanley Turrentine's 'That's Where It's At,' or Dexter Gordon's 'Go' or 'A Swingin' Affair,' or a Hank Mobley record.  I would listen to the records over and over, and play along with the trumpet solos, the bass solos and the piano solos -- and I would assimilate.  I got the lines that came to me, and if I didn't hear the line I'd just play something else.  There were no books to read, so I made up exercises, things to practice that would make me sound better, plus my friends were showing me stuff -- later it helped my education chops."

 Bergonzi moved to New York in 1973, and joined Dave Brubeck for the first of two heavy-touring three-year stints, which encompassed three recordings (Back Home, Tritonis and Paper Moon) and garnered him much exposure.  He made connections with some of the Apple's finest, including work with Hal Galper and Tom Harrell, but decided to move back to the Boston area in 1981, after leaving Brubeck for the second time.  He began teaching privately, doing extensive freelance clinician work, touring Europe with various combos, appearing as featured soloist with a variety of big bands, and building a well-deserved reputation as one of the best and brightest on his instrument.  He married in 1989, had his first son, decided it was time to tour less (he estimates he spent 120 days a year on the road from 1986 until recently), and took a position at New England Conservatory in 1995. 

 Wiggy begins with a rousing version of "Just In Time" in 7/4, swung mightily by Adam Nussbaum.  "The melody falls naturally in that direction," Bergonzi notes.  "I've enjoyed past versions by Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter and Stanley Turrentine, and I wanted to put my own twist on it." 

 The evocative title track stands for his son's nickname.  "He's pretty smart, as young kids are," the proud dad reveals.  "Now, most tunes I wrote come out real quick -- half-an-hour and I'm done, maybe even less.  But I spent months on this one.  I'm glad it took me that long, because the
 harmonic motion in the form is great fun to play on -- minor chords that go down a major third, then up a fourth, down a major third, up a fourth, evolving-evolving-evolving -- it forces you to improvise."
 "Inside-Out," based on the changes of "It Could Happen To You," is Bergonzi's tip of the cap to Sonny Rollins, who recorded it and "Just In Time" on the 1957 Riverside session "The Sound of Sonny." Bergonzi says: "It's happened naturally that my lines started taking larger intervals, and I thought I'd write a head that incorporated it. I've always enjoyed playing 'It Could Happen To You,' so I decided to use it.

 "As soon as I hear Sonny Rollins, I feel healthier. I feel grounded. I feel like, 'Yeah, okay, that's it; that's the way the tenor saxophone is supposed to sound.' I can't get enough of it. His rhythm, his time; it just sounds so right to me."

 Which elicits a question on other tenor favorites. After qualifying that he could name a few score, Bergonzi responds: "Wayne Shorter: I love the way he improvises, I love his mystery. John Coltrane: The spirituality of his music, the passion, the soul-searching, the wrestling of the spirit and soul. Joe Henderson is so fleet. And Stanley Turrentine -- the sound he gets and the way he swings. Dexter Gordon: Such a love of life. Hank Mobley: To coin a phrase, 'he's a singer of songs.' I could go on and on. Alto players. I love Charlie Mariano, Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Stitt, not to mention the tenor men Lester Young and Ben Webster I adore. When somebody asks, 'Who is your favorite tenor player?' I say, 'the last tenor player I heard.'

 Returning to the tunes, Bergonzi describes his intent on the soulful "A Different Look," an original chord progression with an animated melody, as "trying to get an easy-going casual atmosphere for the head that has enough movement to draw you in -- relaxed intensity."

 Of "Channeling," based on "Alone Together," he comments, "I thought I was writing an intervallic melody that fits on the changes -- there's a metric modulation built into the melody." Bergonzi's extended improvisation sculpts thematic unity from abstraction in the manner of Sonny Rollins circa 1964.

 Bergonzi dedicates the lovely ballad "Committed" to his wife, Jeri, "a beautiful, talented piano player." As for the tune, "It's an AABA form, but all the A's are slightly different, so you run into different twists."

 He describes "New In The Neighborhood" as "a cuckoo intervallic melodic line over the bass, with a lot of humor in it. 'Doing The Tron' I wrote a long time ago, with a kind of backwards 'Giant Steps' section that keeps you on your toes."

 Though they've only joined forces with Bergonzi in the studio, Wall and Nussbaum -- who also fill out guitarist John Abercrombie's working trio -- play Bergzoni's gnarly tunes with a simpatico that bespeaks intimate familiarity with the leader's language. Bergonzi says: "Playing trio, tenor-bass-drums, you have an open feeling; there are no chords in your way, and you can play substitutions that you might not hear if the piano played a certain voicing. With Dan Wall you have the best of both worlds; not only is there a bass, but he colors with chords that never get in your way -- it's so open sounding. Adam Nussbaum has a lot of forward motion in his playing; he knows what you need, he gives it to you in a way that doesn't sound academic or pretentious, and there's plenty of interplay. In other words, it's interactive and supportive at the same time; he is high support, low interference, but still plays a lot of stuff."

 "The first tune I played with this group was 'Our Love Is Here To Stay' when we did Just Within. They hadn't even heard me play yet, and they were doing a vamp in front of the tune. Usually I'd sit there and say, 'What the hell am I going to play over this?' But I wanted to jump right in. My imagination instantly said, 'Yeah, I know what to play over this. This is easy!'"

 Well, it's never easy, but this trio of wig-wise veterans, each at the peak of their powers, knows how to extract maximum artistry with a minimum of strain. Wiggy stands up to the finest recorded examples of its genre.

 Ted Panken - Downbeat, Jazziz, WKCR.