Thomas Bergeron is one of those trumpeters who does it all – and really well! As comfortable in the jazz world as he is in the classical world and in the creative contemporary music world, he continues to blur the line of what these genres might even mean to someone. This is why we are big fans of him here at FONT Music.
He will be presenting music from his latest project “Sacred Feast” at The Dimenna Center (Benzaquen Hall) on Sept 25th for FONT Music 2015. We are seeing this as a DO NOT MISS performance (buy your ticket here). Not only is he a great artist, trumpeter and composer – he’s also a great guy and we had a blast chatting with him today. Here’s what he had to say…
Hey Thomas, thanks for chatting with us a bit today, we’re really excited to experience your show in couple weeks at The Dimenna Center – we’re so glad to have you on the program this year. I was surprised to hear this is your first time presenting with us. You are a great example of a “Crossing Genre Artist” we like here at FONT Music. We’ve found that FONT Music means different things to different people and artists, what does it mean to you?
I’ve been an admirer of FONT Music for years, and has become an important and influential force in the creative trumpet community, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it. To me, FONT Music is one of the most forward-thinking “New Music” festivals because it recognizes and embraces the many forms and genres that should fall under the heading of “New Music”, and focuses on the post-academic paradigm where performers are composers and vice-versa.
Right, that’s a great point about the performer being the composer and vice versa. In our community, you rarely are seeing the sole “composers”, but more so the performer is writing for themselves and others they are closely related to. In some ways, it becomes a bit more personal that way I suppose.
Among the many accolades for your new album “Sacred Feast”, the head honcho here at FONT Music Dave Douglas has said some pretty awesome stuff about your new project. “A really fine, beautiful statement. Subtle and rich … I can’t think of another player anywhere that could pull this off”. That’s pretty awesome…
Because Dave is such a model for me as an artist, as soon as “Sacred Feast” was finished, I sent the tracks over to him. I assumed that I was one of dozens of artists sending him material every week, so didn’texpect a response. He not only listened to it, but wrote me an email from the airport with his thoughts! How cool is that? This meant so much to me, and again shows how committed Dave is to supporting young artists and trumpeters. I was obviously thrilled when he asked me to perform at FONT Music this year. I hope that in time I can pay it forward by supporting future generations of FONT Music artists.
Dave Douglas has long been a huge creative and professional inspiration to me, and this Festival is a perfect example of why that is. On top of being a prolific creative force, stunning improviser, and virtuosic trumpeter, Dave is devoted to furthering the art form by supporting other creative artists, especially trumpeters.
Yeah, Dave’s a pretty amazing guy! So, for those of us new to Thomas Bergeron, can you give us a brief history? What have we missed thusfar?
This is a loaded question! I spent a good portion of my early years working in the classical world, both orchestra and chamber music. During this time I was mostly focused on honing my trumpet playing. Because I was taking orchestra auditions (and every freelance gig felt like an audition), I became obsessed with developing my sound and perfecting my technique. I soon realized that sound development and technical work would be never-ending pursuits.
It wasn’t long before I grew hungry for more creative outlets. I had played jazz for as long as I was a trumpet player, but after college I became more intensely interested in improvising and composing (and their intersections). It wasn’t until I arrived at Yale for graduate school that this became a career focus. Yale is primarily focused on classical chamber music, but there were a few fantastic jazz musicians in the program (and luckily for me they were rhythm section players :)). We put together a small jazz group, which provided an oasis of creativity for me. I wanted to convince the school that jazz performance practice had a place within their established chamber music curriculum. My strategy was to arrange jazz versions (written for jazz players) of the music of classical composers like Debussy, Villa Lobos, Chopin, and Ravel.
I love it – change the system from the inside out! Including your musical history and interests creating something unique. And this brought you to your first album?
My first jazz album interpreted the music of Claude Debussy (“The First of All My Dreams“). I was encouraged by the response to the music, especially when we performed live. We would constantly hear jazz fans saying they didn’t realize how cool Debussy was, and classical fans saying they never thought they’d enjoy a jazz show so much. While I was working on this creative outlet in the jazz realm, my classical career continued to have a life of its own.
I’m now going into my fourth season as principal trumpet with the Springfield Symphony, my third season with the Atlantic Brass Quintet, and I recently finished a two-year residency at Carnegie Hall with Ensemble ACJW. Working with these ensembles is of course immensely rewarding, not only because I get to perform alongside some of the worlds greatest players, but because I’m constantly exposed to some of the greatest music ever created. As a composer, jazz musician and improviser, I feed heavily off of the music that I’m exposed to in classical settings.
Wow – you’re ALL over the place musically, that’s so cool! And you’re drawing all areas of your musical interests into your creative playing and writing! So unique and personal! What can we expect next from you?
While promoting “Sacred Feast“, I’m always thinking about new material. I’m currently working on some ideas for smaller jazz groups (trios and quartets), and I’m also writing some new music for the Atlantic Brass Quintet. This is exciting to me because Atlantic is a traditional brass quintet made of up virtuoso players, but most of the players are also stellar improvisers with firm footing in the jazz world (like our trombonist Tim Albright, for example). The variety of skill sets in the ensemble opens up a lot of doors compositionally. I tend to pick a point on the horizon to sail towards, but allow the winds to blow me to a new course if they want to. So who knows, man? In general just trying to stay creative, stay healthy, and continue working hard to serve the world of music.
Yes… serving the world of music, that sounds about right. Do you have any big classical projects coming up?
As for nerve-wracking classical projects … there are a few coming up. Most notably, I’m performing the Haydn Trumpet Concerto, as well as Copland’s Quiet City with the Springfield Symphony in November (along with Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks … yes all on the same program … yikes).
So, Sacred Feast is your newest album out taking a “different” look at the music of Messiaen. Can you give us some insight?
I became captivated by the music of Olivier Messiaen when I was studying with one of his students, Joan Panetti, who teaches a course at Yale called “Hearing”. What struck me most was his ability to manipulate harmony and tone color to magical effects. Messiaen was known as a mystic, and perhaps more famously as a devout Roman Catholic (someone tell the Pope this concert is happening on the day he’s in NYC!).
Right! He’ll be a half mile away from you when you’re performing “Sacred Feast” – we’re seeing that as more providence than coincidence here. We’ll save him a seat.
Seriously … Tell the Pope this show is happening while he’s in town. He will love it. He probably already loves Olivier Messiaen’s music. If he hasn’t heard of Olivier Messiaen, he should. If ever there was a Pope in history who would enjoy a jazz Messiaen show, it’s Pope Francis.
We totally agree. We’ll see what we can do … Speaking of spiritualness of the music, how does the music affect you?
I am not a religious person per se, but Messiaen’s music takes me to a place that I can only describe as spiritual. That’s why I created this project. I wanted to expose people to his music who might not otherwise find it.
The band has only sunk deeper into the music through the numerous performances we’ve given since the recording sessions (I’ve often thought that bands should re-record their albums at the end of the tours that promote them. It could be like a musical version of one of those before/after pictures in weight-loss ads).
Ha! Yeah, the music evolves so much over time – that’s actually kind of a cool idea. The before and after musical shots… I’d be totally interested in hearing something like that. Tell us a little bit about what to expect on Sept 25th for your concert at The Dimenna Center (Benzaquen Hall) for the Festival?
This FONT Music performance has turned into quite a special affair, with the addition of a fantastic string section and the brilliant Becca Stevens (who sings a 3-part song cycle of Messiaen’s on the record, in addition to his Vocalise). The icing on the cake is that my friend and Pakistani tabla master Yousuf Kerai will be in town that weekend, so I’m re-arranging a number of our pieces to allow him to join us. I met Yousuf while visiting Karachi in January. Just a few days after meeting him, we put together a concert with some local musicians in which we combined Eastern and Western musical practices. Yousuf is the real deal when it comes to tabla. He grew up in Pakistan and studied with Ustad Khurshid Hussain. I remember him describing tabla as a “means of discourse”, which is a particularly apt description in the context of our collaboration.
It’s been such a pleasure talking with you, and we can’t wait to hear this pretty special concert!
Thank you for supporting contemporary music and people crazy enough to devote their lives to playing the trumpet. You’re making the world a better place.
We seem to think so too – glad you agree! Okay, so if we DO get a hold of The Pope, how can we entice him to stop by?
My suggestion, if you have his ear:“Excuse me Your Holiness, there is a concert happening across town tonight entitled ‘Sacrum Convivium’ (use the latin, trust me). Music inspired by the great Catholic composer Olivier Messiaen, including performers from Pakistan, Japan, and the US. Would you like to attend?”How could he say no?
Well, if you didn’t convince him, you’ve convinced me! Thanks Thomas!
Here’s a great clip of “Porquoi” from the “Sacred Feast” recording session:
Thomas Bergeron’s Bio: A trumpeter, composer, producer, and educator known for excelling in both the jazz and classical realms, Thomas Bergeron exemplifies a new breed of 21st century artists. In addition to his own hybrid jazz chamber ensemble, Thomas performs as a sideman with many jazz groups in NYC, is member of the Atlantic Brass Quintet and principal trumpet with the Springfield Symphony. He recently concluded a 2-year residency at Carnegie Hall with Ensemble ACJW, and has performed with Vampire Weekend, The Danish National Symphony Orchestra, The American Symphony, The Temptations, Idina Menzel, Judy Collins, Jon Irabagon, Arlo Guthrie, Ernie Watts, and the Radio City Christmas Orchestra, among others. His network television appearances include Saturday Night Live, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and CBS This Morning.As an educator, Thomas is dedicated to sharing music in communities that would not otherwise be able to access it. He currently teaches inmates at Sing Sing Maximum Security Correctional Facility through Musicambia, and is an educational consultant for The Harmony Program in New York City. Thomas has held teaching positions at Williams College, Bennington College, Yale, and Amherst College. He holds two advanced degrees from Yale, where he won the Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition and received the John Swallow Award for excellence in brass playing. He also holds a business management degree from UMass Amherst.Thomas is a Conn-Selmer Artist, performing on Bach Artisan Stradivarius Bb and Eb/D trumpets, the Bach Stradivarius Chicago C trumpet, and the Conn Vintage One flugelhorn.
If you are at all involved in the jazz scene, you likely have heard the name Marquis Hill over the past couple years – he’s the definition of a “rising star” and “young lion” in the jazz trumpet world. While being a sought after unique voice in his native Chicago jazz scene for years now, Marquis began to get the national/international attention he’s deserved recently after winning the 2014 Thelonious Monk Jazz Trumpet Competition (and International Trumpet Guild Jazz Competition in 2012). We’re excited to have him on the FONT Music team this year as not only an artist, but a curator of the event at The Jazz Gallery on September 26th entitled Signatures in Brass (buy tickets here).
Thanks for being a part of the FONT Music team this year – we’re excited to have you on board. For the rest of the reading world, give them your history with FONT Music:
This is actually my first year involved with FONT; I discovered the effort about two years ago and have wanted to be involved with their good work ever since. I consider myself fortunate to be a part of it this year.
You’re proudly from Chicago, which has a unique jazz scene. We just recently chatted with fellow Chicagoan, Chad McCullough last week who will also be performing at the festival. What are your thoughts about growing up in the Chicago jazz scene:
Born and raised in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to learn and grow well in the city’s energetic scene. It has long had a number of authentic voices and artist that see artistic vision. Though currently splitting time between Chicago and New York, I’m ever grateful for the rich opportunities my home town has, and continues to offer. To learn from and perform alongside some of the city’s great thinkers in the music – Willie Pickens, Von Freeman, Fred Anderson, Ken Chaney, Ernest Dawkins, and Bobby Broom – is a blessing.
Wow, a blessing for sure! Tell us about some of the professional stuff you’ve been up to.
I’ve been involved with some pretty fulfilling projects over the past few years. Matt Ulery’s “Loom,” Juan Pastor’s “Chinano,” Geof Bradifield’s “Our Roots” have each been uniquely fine opportunities in which I had the the oppurtonity to grow and contribute. As of late, my main focus has been my working group, The Marquis Hill Blacktet. We released our latest project, “Modern Flows vol. 1,” last fall; currently, we are preparing to go back into the studio and record the next project entitled “The Way We Play.”So what’s next for you?
Some great things are coming up; I’m energized to be playing the music from “Modern Flows Vol. 1” at the Chicago Jazz Festival, in September. Thrilled to be spending more time in New York – where I get opportunity to learn and grow with a number of compelling artists – I will also be doing a two-month European tour with the great bassist-composer-leader Marcus Miller, beginning in October. After that my focus will come back to the project to be released next spring (“The Way We Play”) Its an exciting and grateful time.
That’s fantastic! Can’t wait to hear about the Marcus Miller tour – you’ll have to give us a recap of that when you’re back! Luckily, before you split for that FONT Music gets you on September 16th at The Jazz Gallery. Can you tell us a little about how you’ve curated this event?
This is a project I call “SIGNATURES IN BRASS: The Personality-packed review of contemporary Jazz Trumpet.” It features Philip Dizack, Josh Evans, Keyon Harold, Ingrid Jensen, Billy Buss, and myself, on trumpets – as well as Theo Hill on Piano, Eric Wheeler on Bass, and Obed Calvaire on the kit. This is a great opportunity to feature a number of different and unique voices emerging under “Jazz Trumpet” umbrella. Featuring all-original music from the band as well as a commissioned piece – written by long time friend and fine composer, Kendall Moore. Should be a true fellowship!
Fellowship indeed! That’s what we’re all about here at FONT Music. We’re so glad to have you on board. Be sure to check out Marquis’ recent performance of his tune “White Shadows”at Tribeca Arts Center with his group Blacktet below:
On May 24, 2015, Marcus Belgrave, a staple not only in his hometown, Detroit, MI, but also in the jazz world was lost. Playing on everything from Motown records to recording with other jazz masters – Marcus embodied music, as a being and a musician. Trumpeter, Greg Glassman, a former student, colleague and friend reflects on the being of Marcus:
If you didn’t know Marcus Belgrave, it is very difficult to paint an apt picture for you through words. This is for some of the same reasons that conditioned his unique version and depth of greatness. Marcus was a true artist, a full human being, a manifestation of lifetimes of wisdom, and of the people. He was very much down-to-earth, and at the same time ephemeral, seeming to hover in the air above us, analogized by his sound, which appeared to be coming from everywhere in a room at once. He was a friend, allowing you to feel equal and important. Yet as his friend, you always felt lucky, as if he was allowing you to touch a higher plane of living. When he was with you, he really was with you, and you felt honored.
I have been around so many great trumpeters, but I haven’t met or heard anyone who comes close to transcending the instrument the way Marcus did. I imagine it was something like being with Dizzy Gillespie (several have told me that later in life Marcus was Dizzy’s favorite trumpet player). The ears are just so advanced that there’s so little in between the soul of the man and what comes out of the horn. Marcus was an encyclopedia of jazz language, but it was internalized to the point that he wasn’t thinking about notes and chords. I asked him several times about this, and he confirmed in his own way what I had believed to be true: that the goal was to go back to playing by ear. He would play the deepest nooks and crannies of harmony you’ll ever hear, but because it was truly singing in his mind, and because he was truly improvising, it always sounded full of freedom and of the present moment. And he brought this to every setting imaginable. In person I heard him play dixieland, bebop, free jazz, R&B, electronic groove music, music that is not within a label; in every setting he was improvising, and in every setting he sounded simultaneously grounded in the language of that idiom, and unmistakably himself.
He cared so much about serious young musicians, and the future of the music. He became a pillar of culture in Detroit, constantly and passionately working to develop and showcase the wealth of talent in that city. He gave them everything he had.
I started spending time with Marcus Belgrave when I was 19. I would drive to Detroit from Oberlin College and he would have me sit-in on his gigs and stay at his house…pre-gig trips to kinko’s to copy music; post-gig late-night meals; forcing me to push the limits of my social comfort zone; heaping portions of needed criticism and the hard-love that comes from a master when he cares about the music and about a student. He was my closest mentor. And as much as I know my relationship with him was exceptionally close, it blows the mind to realize: So many musicians he touched feel the same way!
How is this possible? How did he find this time and energy? This was Marcus Belgrave. A seemingly unending source of energy, joy, dedication, artistry, love and fire. If ever there was someone you expected to live forever, it was him. He’s in every note I play, and I’m joined by many who miss him deeply.
Three cheers for Saint Marcus Belgrave!
Greg Glassman is emerging as one of New York City’s mostrecognizable and accomplished young jazz musicians. Born in Queens, NY in 1977, Mr. Glassman has packed a wealth of knowledge and experience into his budding career. He started his career as a full-time professional at age 17, while attending the esteemed Oberlin Conservatory and Oberlin College. While at Oberlin, he developed close relationships with Donald Walden and Marcus Belgrave, making frequent trips to Detroit to mentor under them. He earned a B.A. from Oberlin in 1998 and immediately moved back to New York City. In 2002 he received his M.A. in Jazz Performance from Queens College, where he studied with Michael Mossman and Roland Hanna and presently serves as a clinician for Queens College’s Jazz Project. Since returning to New York Mr. Glassman has been steadily cementing himself in the canon of great NY trumpeters. He has led legendary weekly jam sessions for years, tours internationally and is a staple of the vibrant New York jazz scene.
Learn more about Greg at his website here: http://www.gregglassman.com/
Chad McCullough is no stranger to FONT Music, as over the past few years he’s been involved not only as a performer, but also behind the scenes as one of our graphic designers (see the web banner above – that’s him!). A diverse performer and composer, Chad is at the helm of the Chicago jazz scene and regularly is performing all across the world, in addition to teaching at DePaul University. Among his many music projects, his group Chicago based, Spin Quartet has just recently released their newest album, Starting From Zero.
He’ll be joining FONT Music 2015 at Downtown Music Galleryon Sunday Sept 27th at 7pm for our first night of the “Visionaries” Concerts, where he’ll play a duo set with New York pianist, Dan Cray(buy tickets here!). We touched base with Chad to see what he’s been up lately:
Thanks for chatting with us today Chad – tell us about your involvement with FONT Music over the years:
I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with FONT since 2010. I started just making some small web banner graphics, and now do most all of the graphic design for the festival. I was able to perform in 2013, and will be back this year!
Give us a quick snapshot of your past and what you’ve been up to over the years?
I live in Chicago, and am very happy to be a part of this town’s vibrant jazz scene. I grew up in Seattle, learning from many of the great musicians in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve been in the midwest for about 2.5 years, and teach at DePaul University in the jazz studies department.
I’ve been involved in some extremely rewarding long-term collaborative projects in the last few years. I’ve got a band with a great Belgian pianist, Bram Weijters, and we’ve been luckily enough to tour around the world. My band, The Spin Quartet has been an exciting group to work with and develop over the last few years as well. I also play with The Kora Band, a US-Canadian collaboration called Tunnel Six, and in Chicago am a member of a few very hip (I think!) bands; James Davis’ Beveled, Luke Malewicz’s Heritage Quartet; and just about anything else I can do to keep busy!
Wow! Sounds like you keep busy! Enough about the past, what’s on the horizon for you these days?
Lots on the horizon! In September I’m playing at the Chicago Jazz Festival and touring Canada, and a few days in the Pacific Northwest with The Spin Quartet in celebration of our newly released live record, The Kora Band is releasing a new album with a UK tour in October, and in November Bram Weijters and I will celebrate our latest album with a mid-west US tour. All good things! On top of all of that I’m very much looking forward to starting the upcoming school year, and working with the new students at DePaul.
You also will be joining us here in NYC in September for a set of duo music with NYC (and former Chicago) pianist, Dan Cray at FONT Music’s Visionaries Series (tickets here). Tell us a little about this setup and your history with Dan.
Dan and I have been friends for a while, and have played and talked a lot about music. This duo project will focus on our original music. As far as pianist in that setting, I really can’t think of anyone I’d rather play with! I’m really looking forward to this show.
Great! We’re looking forward to hearing that next month. Anything else you want to leave the trumpet world with til next time?
I’m around at any time to talk embouchures, valve oil, vintage horns, or just get together and play some long-tones with.
Last March, the jazz trumpet world suddenly lost another master,
Lew Soloff. Known throughout the jazz world not only for his truly unique approach to his music, but also to life. Mention of his name in the jazz circles today still brings pain to a fresh wound from his loss. No one is more fit to write about Lew than his close friend and colleague, Randy Brecker:
“Lew simply put was one of my closest friends for close to 50 years. I first heard him play at the home of Barry Miles then a precocious drummer and pianist in 1966. Barry had heard me play at ‘Ramblerny’ I believe, a jazz camp that Phil Woods ran in New Hope, PA. After returning from a 4 month State Dept tour with the Indiana U Jazz Ensemble I was visiting and sitting in with my younger brother Mike, who was attending the camp, and playing in Phil’s student big band. (Phil’s sax section included 15 year olds: Michael Brecker, Ritchie Cole and Roger Rosenberg-imagine that!). Anyway, Barry was playing tapes of his concerts for me at his home near the camp, and I heard some amazingly strong and creative trumpet playing. I asked Barry who it was, and he said:
Lew Soloff….I kinda froze thinking ‘uh oh! I’m going to have to compete with THIS when I move to NYC from Philly in a couple of months??’
Not too long after, I actually met Lew (who had just gotten out of the Army Reserves) at the old Half Note Club downtown…by then I was playing with the Duke Pearson Big band and Duke needed a sub and Lew was hired. He blew us all away not only his soloing, but his expertise in reading the parts, playing lead trumpet, and his overall musicality.
Being close in age, we became fast friends, and would trade lessons with each other, and just hang out a lot. He loved to talk trumpet and more trumpet. It was an entirely accurate statement that Wynton made upon hearing of his death: “Lew Soloff loved the trumpet more than anyone!”
He was completely enthusiastic about everything he loved, trumpet food, wine and trumpet again. He became the world’s greatest jazz piccolo trumpet player. He tasted great fame and fortune when he joined Blood Sweat and Tears. I had to beg him to do that gig. I was leaving the band to join Horace Silver, and found myself sitting next to Lew at a Joe Henderson Big Band rehearsal the day after I quit. Lew didn’t want to do the gig because it was a ‘Rock Band’ and he wanted to play Jazz, but I was in a spot so as a friend he said OK he’d try it for awhile…needless to say the record they were about to record sold 11 million copies! and Lew’s salary went from $200 a week to $5000 a week (!) so he was there to stay! We were taking lessons together with Ed Troidel in NJ usually taking a bus to get there, and Lew started picking me up in a stretch Limo laughing the whole time!
He was such a character with a great sense of self deprecating humor. Jeez I miss him. Guitarist Bob Mann said it best upon hearing the news: “Sadly Cirque Du Soloff has Ended”….