David Berkman Quartet
Tuesday, April 11th, 8 p.m.| Fulkerson Recital Hall, HSU
"Berkman is on the extremely smart end of the post-1960s mainstream…spinning off new dialects from a shared traditional language…He always burrows in, finding transcendence."
—Ben Ratliff, New York Times
The late, great pianist Mulgrew Miller coined the term “interview music” to describe music that is obviously different and attracts media attention. While we dig some of the high-concept jazz Miller was talking about, we also love listening to master musicians playing deep within the tradition, and that brings us to our last artist of the season, David Berkman. Over the course of his career, Berkman has mostly flown beneath the media’s radar, but here are the sorts of things you’ll regularly read about him:
Backhanded praise, maybe—but it’s rooted in respect for his considerable, if “easy to overlook,” gifts. What Berkman brings to the table is a deep knowledge of harmony (he’s written three highly regarded books on jazz theory), a rich melodic gift evident in both his compositions and improvisations, and a dedication to the groove that makes his playing feel as good as it sounds. Oh—and a dry, quirky wit that makes his between-song announcements almost as much fun as his playing.
His fellow musicians know all about him. From his beginnings in Cleveland (where he grew up) and Boston (where he first got “serious” about the piano as a transfer student at Berklee) all the way through his three-plus decades in New York, Berkman has worked with an amazingly diverse range of players, from post-modernists like Dave Douglas to post-bop stylists like Tom Harrell to soulful bluesmen like Fathead Newman and Hank Crawford. (Early in his career, he also studied with pianist Kenny Werner and did a long touring stint with the Woody Herman big band.) Berkman has made a series of smart albums for Palmetto featuring his own complex, playful, tuneful compositions. “In a jazz world where everyone wants to be a composer,” Thomas Conrad recently wrote in Jazz Times, “David Berkman was born one.” But he regularly indulges his penchant for standards—which provide a common language for a community of players that’s largely gotten lost, he thinks—with the New York Standards Quartet, a group he’s kept going over a dozen years and half a dozen albums with saxophonist Tim Armacost, bassist Daiki Yasukagawa, and drummer Gene Jackson.
Another measure of the respect Berkman engenders is the caliber of people who want to play in his company. His latest album for Palmetto, Old Friends and New Friends, unites old hands (and former Berkman collaborators) Billy Drewes, Adam Kolker, and Brian Blade with newcomers Dayna Stephens and Linda May Han Oh, and he’s bringing a version of that all-star group to Arcata. The East Bay-bred tenor saxophonist Stephens, whom the New York Times calls “a saxophonist of judicious excellence,” has been on our wishlist for a long while. Oh, a headliner in our 2013-2014 season, is on the cover of the latest Jazz Times, which declares her a “major new voice on the bass.” And A-list drummer and bandleader Rudy Royston (Oh's bandmate in the latest iteration of the Dave Douglas Quintet) is making his fourth appearance on an RJA stage, having previously played here with Ron Miles & Gary Versace, Tom Harrell, and Michael Blake.
Great music, performed by great players? It might not be “interview music,” but it’s a concept everyone can enjoy.
Tickets ($15 General Admission, $10 Students & Seniors) are available here at our website and at People's Records, Wildwood Music, Wildberries, and The Works.
David Berkman will also present an open, public pre-show workshop from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m on Tuesday, April 11th in HSU's Studio Theater (Theater Arts 115, to the left of the entrance to the Van Duzer lobby, then down the hall). People of all levels of experience are welcome to attend, and admission is FREE.
Words & Pixels:
Video (see also at left):
Audio (see also at left):