Sunday, September 7, 2014

Jerry Bergonzi and Phil Grenadier

A couple weeks ago I went to the Lilypad to see the Jerry Bergonzi Quartet. The group consists of Bergonzi on tenor saxophone, Phil Grenadier on trumpet, Luther Gray on drums, and Will Slater on bass. The group performs every Monday at 7:30 at the Lilypad in Cambridge. 

During the concert I was taken aback by the cohesion of the group. Each member seemed to instinctively know how to respond to the other members of the group through rhythmic hits, crescendos, and using silence as a tool to compliment. The group played original songs, arrangements, and contrafacts (songs written using the same chord changes from a standard song such as "How High the Moon" and "Ornithology"). 

I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Jerry Bergonzi. Learn more about Bergonzi on his website

1. Describe how you formed your group, and how you started playing at the Lilypad every Monday night. 

Jerry Bergonzi on tenor saxophone
I just asked people I wanted to play with to do it and it happened. People change if someone moves or different situations arise. 

2. Who are your musical influences? Who is your favorite saxophonist? What is your favorite jazz album? 

I have many musical influences but I would have to say they come mostly from Jazz and classical music. Biggest influences are Elvin Jones, Billy Higgins, Philly Joe Jones and Tony Williams, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Hank Mobley, Stanly Turrentine, Sonny Stitt, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Ben Webster, Kenny Dorham, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Blue Mitchell, Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd and many more. My favorite saxophone player is the last one I heard. I love them all. I don't have one favorite jazz album. I could name about ten but won't. 

3. How do you approach musical composition? Is this different or similar to your approach to improvisation? 

Musical composition to me is another improvisation.

4. How do you approach jazz education? Do you approach teaching, composing, and performing from different angles or do you find that the same philosophies carry over and influence others? 

I teach what I know and what I have discovered. I try my best to empower people to believe in themselves and cover all the bases.

5. In your opinion, what do you think is the most important thing to teach people about jazz music? 

The most important thing is to listen. So many players and not enough listeners. Live music, if you can. Jazz is being in the present tense.

6. What kind of advice do you give to young musicians starting out in the jazz world? 

Music is the master,  Everyone is a student. If you have this thing called music in your blood, it is a disease. Terminal.  You die with it. Give into it and give it everything you have.


The Jerry Bergonzi Quartet

I was also fortunate enough to interview Phil Grenadier. To learn more about Grenadier, visit his website


1. Describe your experiences playing every Monday night at the Lilypad with the Jerry Bergonzi Quartet. 

My experience has been a fantastic one. Getting to play with Jerry every week is a tremendous learning experience for me. We have been there for more than three years now and it continues to be a wonderful opportunity to grow as a musician and band. We develop new material and play hard each week. The audience continues to grow as well which inspires us further.

2. Who are your musical influences? Who is your favorite trumpeter? What is your favorite jazz album? 


My musical influences are vast. If you saw my vinyl and CD collection you'd see I love all periods of Jazz and many styles (Dixieland to Free Jazz) as well as classical music and rock music. I have a particular love of 70's funk.

So many trumpeters have influenced me, it's hard to pick one, but forced to choose, it would probably be Miles Davis as I love his sound and approach to music; his note choice and phrasing. Greatly admire his fearlessness and his tireless search for newer music that expressed the "now".

My favorite Jazz album? Whew! Too tough! Maybe John Coltrane- "Crescent" or Wayne Shorter - "JuJu".

3. How do you approach musical composition? Is this different or similar to your approach to improvisation? 

I honestly don't write much these days. On my albums, I have recorded a handful of my compositions and I'd say that most of them are very related to my improvisation. I write what interests me, at that time. Sometimes inspiration hits me and I write a tune from that, but often I have to just sit down and put effort into creating a composition which can be challenging, but very rewarding as well.

4. How do you approach jazz education? Do you approach teaching, composing, and performing from different angles or do you find that the same philosophies carry over and influence others?

Phil Grenadier on trumpet

I teach often these days. Kids to adults so there are different approaches for them. I try to be encouraging and meet the student where they are at, musically speaking, and look for what I feel they need to get better. It's all a path; a road to bettering ourselves, which is beautiful in itself, and I try to be a positive influence in their quest, whatever that may be. I am probably harder on my own music making than my students, which might be a downside.

5. In your opinion, what do you think is the most important thing to teach people about jazz music? 

Jazz music is a personal expression, the key word being personal. I love the amazing tradition of Jazz and all the beautiful musicians that have contributed to this beautiful art form, yet I believe it is our job, the current musician, to strive to find our own personal voice, expression and point of view. In effect, the tradition of Jazz IS to innovate.

6. What kind of advice do you give to young musicians starting out in the jazz world? 

Listen to all types of Jazz that you enjoy. Keep an open mind and listen to music that challenges you, even if you don't love it. Something that you don't initially like, you may love someday, hence the open mind outlook. Practice and play as much as possible. Study the music and the players that you love. There is a time to take in information and a time to digest it and make it your own. Keep in mind that we're heading toward our own expression, but this takes hard work, mental discipline and time. Love what you do and keep your head and heart into making the music you love.

Final Thoughts: 
It is reassuring to know that there are many kind, generous jazz musicians that are willing to share their knowledge and insight into their own music. 

This concert experience actually inspired me to start writing my jazz poetry blog, Without a Poem.


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