Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Jerry Bergonzi [from Wikipedia]

Bergonzi triumphs again at Jazz Hastings

Victoria Kingham is keen to put on record her appreciation of Jerry Bergonzi’s performance this week at Jazz Hastings.

Multi-instrumentalist Jerry Bergonzi, at 75, is a veteran of the tenor saxophone. Someone who has recorded with many great jazz musicians (Dave Brubeck, Eartha Kitt, Joey Calderazzo) and was admired by such as the late, gifted tenorist Mike Brecker, is still teaching enthusiastically, and still striving, when performing, to be the best that he can be.

That best is in fact very good indeed, which was demonstrated on Wednesday at Jazz Hastings. Bergonzi came over from the US just for three gigs – two at the Pizza Express in Soho and one at Jazz Hastings, where he was back for the third time, then flying back to Boston on 7 March. He loves the audiences and the crowd here, and they in turn strongly appreciate seeing this great professional, a musician’s musician, in action. Not only that but the audiences are getting younger! Plenty of brown and black heads now among the grey, all loving what he does.

What he does is consistently inventive. The bassist and drummer that he has previously gigged with while here, Stephen Keogh and Mark Hodgson, provided a beautifully solid rhythm section. In fact Keogh is an inventive and sensitive drummer. Taking fours (four-bar alternate breaks) he proved himself a careful listener and constructive responder, but provided an unerring rhythm throughout.

Pianist Will Barry is a first time associate, getting very quickly into his stride, his skill keenly acknowledged by Bergonzi. It wasn’t a straightforward standards evening – Bergonzi mixed a number of his original compositions with Coltrane standards and one tune, Double Billed, which is his own riff on Blue In Green, ‘a ten-bar song in twenty-two keys’ he called it. Apart from the originating chord sequence it couldn’t be more different – almost frenetic, and about three times as fast.

A lovely ballad, Dexter (written almost 30 years ago, in tribute to Dexter Gordon) was one of the evening’s highlights. Obama was another, written only last year, recorded on the recent CD Extra Extra. Channeling, which they warmed up on, was recorded over 20 years ago.

However old or new the tunes may be, Bergonzi’s improvisational skill always refreshes them. He uses the whole range of the horn in his search for difference: a lovely instrument with a great even sound in all the octaves, effective in the quiet passages as well. The horn was made specially for him, in Leeds (my home town!) by a sax specialist called Dave Walker, who has a world-wide reputation among saxophonists.

One thing: despite the excellence of the performances and the virtuosity of Bergonzi’s improvisation I found myself wondering, not for the first time, why jazz presentation doesn’t vary a bit more. Sometimes more a capella, more variety of musical texture, more instrumental variation, wouldn’t go amiss. That comes though with more rehearsal and planning, and perhaps it’s the nature of this kind of jazz combo that if you fly in, play a set with three musicians you don’t regularly play with, and fly out again, you need to retain a conventional, well-understood structure.

A Coltrane staple like Equinox, though, lives around the pensive mood, the melodic spaces; Bergonzi had a tendency to fill these in with rippling, glistening semi-quavers in perfect time; the tune became earthy, insistent, complicated, in spite of a fine drum solo. Not that any of that’s a criticism  – just sometimes maybe the audience want to lay back a little.

Jerry Bergonzi played at Jazz Hastings on Wednesday 6 March 2024 with Stephen Keogh (Drums), Mark Hodgson (Bass) and Will Barry (Piano)

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Posted 18:44 Thursday, Mar 7, 2024 In: Music & Sound

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