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Berman Foundation opens to raves


BMF Photo Gallery


BMF Receptions


New Harmonies




Kendra Shank interview


Ray Gehring interview


The Bad Plus interview



July 2009
Feature Articles

Music news, interviews, opinion


New Berman museum-offices open to raves


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—More than 1,000 people visited The Burkholder Project in just two hours during the April 3 First The public converges on BMF offices during grand opening. [Photo by Dan DeMuth]Friday Gallery Walk, a record attendance for the monthly event and a landmark occasion for the Berman Music Foundation. For the first time in its 14 years, the BMF museum and offices were combined under one roof, and everyone came out to see it and celebrate the legacy of Butch Berman.


Building owner and artist Anne Burkholder said the attendance exceeded all expectations. The previous record for a gallery walk was about 600 people. She attributed the huge increase, in large part, to the BMF’s grand opening. Indeed, it seemed at times that all 1,000 visitors had simultaneously converged in the Skylight Gallery studio apartment, making conversation—and even movement—a challenge.


John Carlini and Bill Wimmer provide music for grand opening. [Photo by Richard S. Hay]Despite the claustrophobic conditions, a celebrative mood prevailed both inside the museum-office space and outside the room, where saxophonist Bill Wimmer and keyboardist John Carlini provided live jazz in the narrow hallway of the Skylight Gallery. As music reverberated throughout the building, art patrons became aware that something exciting was happening. Many who were previously unfamiliar with the Berman foundation made their way to the upper level for a look.


If brave enough or inquisitive enough to wade into the assembled snarl, they were greeted by BMF representatives happy to explain the history of the foundation and its long and supportive presence on the Lincoln music scene and beyond.


BMF consultants (back row, from left) Dan DeMuth, Kay Davis, Wade Wright, trustee Tony Rager, Grace Sankey-Berman, Gerald Spaits and Tom Ineck and (front row, from left) Russ Dantzler and Leslie Spaits gather at new BMF offices.Earlier in the day, trustee Tony Rager gathered the BMF consultants for a pre-opening lunch and meeting at Lazlo’s restaurant and brewpub, directly across the street from The Burkholder. They had come from as far away as San Francisco (Wade Wright) and New York City (Russ Dantzler), as well as Fayetteville, Ark. (Kay Davis), Pueblo, Colo. (Dan DeMuth), Kansas City, Mo. (Gerald and Leslie Spaits), and Lincoln (Grace Sankey-Berman and Tom Ineck. All had been close, trusted friends of founder Butch Berman, so it was with mixed feelings of joy and sorrow that we shared a meal and conversation that often involved fond reminiscences of Butch.


After lunch, we toured the new BMF facilities, most of the consultants seeing the space for the first time. Everyone agreed that the museum’s relocation from Butch’s house to the lively downtown area was a move sure to heighten visibility and further the foundation’s mission to educate, entertain and celebrate through music.


Framed drawing of Butch Berman as "Jazz Santa" oversees the main room. [Photo by Richard S. Hay]That sentiment was confirmed when doors opened to the public at 7 p.m. and visitors began to arrive in waves, swelling to a critical mass about 8:30 p.m. and dwindling to a few friends and jazz enthusiasts after the doors had officially closed at 9 p.m.


“Butch would have loved this!” was a frequent refrain among those who knew him best. Not only would he have appreciated the genuine show of support and friendship that the spectacular grand-opening attendance represented, but he would have beamed at the prospect that the foundation he created might reach a new audience who would learn to love music almost as much as he did.



Photo Gallery

Friends come out for BMF grand opening

Don and Jill Holmquist

Friends of the BMF gather in main room

Hors d'œuvres in the glow of the neon sign

Joyce Latrom and Wade Wright

Gerald and Leslie Spaits

Chris Lohry, Russ Dantzler and Dad

Peter and Jane Reinkordt (right)

Susan and John Horn

Kim Jasung, Rose Spencer, Grace,

and Joseph Akpan

Berman advisors gather for the first time

in the new BMF offices

Tad Fraizer, Devrah Lehner, Algis

Lakaitis and Deb Higuchi

"Jazz Club" by Leora Platte was

commissioned by the Berman Music

Foundation and unveiled at the grand opening.

Tom Ineck, Dan Demuth, Kay Davis, Leslie Spaits and Gerald Spaits

Advisors meet for lunch

before grand opening.

Friends of the BMF

Artist receptions continue a grand tradition


By Grace Sankey-Berman


Because of his appreciation for music, and the love and respect he had for musicians, Butch always entertained artists at his house after concerts sponsored by the Berman Music Foundation. He wanted to give them a place to relax after playing and talk about the music with people of like minds.


So we continued that tradition with post-concert receptions for some of the 2009 Jazz in June artists at the new BMF offices at The Burkholder Project in the Project Omaha and friends gather for portrait. [Photo by Tom Ineck]Haymarket District. Local artists, friends of jazz and fans also were invited. Among those who attended were Ed Love, music director of the Nebraska Jazz Orchestra, and his lovely wife, Loretta, coordinator of Jazz in June Martha Florence, Lincoln jazz keyboardist John Carlini, Sheldon Museum of Art collections curator Sharon Kennedy, Sheldon events coordinator Laurie Sipple, Star City Blog publisher Dennis Kornbluh and his father, David, and friends and fans like Ruthann Nahorny and Mary Berry.


It was nice to watch the musicians go through the music collection looking for their favorite artists or just some obscure artists they had not heard in a long time. Bassist Roger Barnhart of ZARO was fascinated with album covers. He talked about how artistic some of the albums were—or were not. Lincoln native Andrew Vogt was pleasantly surprise to hear his CD “Action Plan” playing in the Kendra Shank Quartet (from left) Frank Kimbrough, Tony Moreno, Kendra and Dean Johnson [Photo by Tom Ineck]music room. Drummer and percussionist Oscar Dezoto said he remembered every song on the album, even though he did not play on it. I enjoyed listening to Dezoto talk about the various people he has played with over the years, including an African musician from Senegal.


When Kendra Shank and her band arrived at the reception, they were tired and hungry. She said singing was “an athletic event” and was so happy to have some vegetables. Kendra had previously played twice for Jazz in June and was thrilled to be back for the third time. She said the experience felt like making love to 7,000 people. Her record “Afterglow” was playing on the stereo. She smiled when she heard it and said she had not heard it in a long time. She talked about how her music had changed over the years and how much she continues to evolve as an artist. Drummer Tony Moreno was fun. He could not Grace Sankey-Berman and Victor Lewis [Photo by Devrah Lehner]get over how vast the music collection is, and he kept saying, “This is nuts!” as he looked through the records.


We were also delighted to host Bill Wimmer and Project Omaha after their arguably best concert of the season. Guitarist Dave Stryker and his extended family and friends were in attendance. So also were the great drummer Victor Lewis and his manager Joanne Klein. I was thrilled for the chance to talk to Victor Lewis. We reminisced about the times we spent with Butch in his basement. He was particularly glad that the foundation continues to keep the music alive.


Luigi Waites and Joanne Klein [Photo by Tom Ineck]Victor’s friend from Omaha the great musician Luigi Waites also attended. Watching the interaction between the two artists was priceless. They seemed to enjoy each other’s company. Percussionist Joey Gulizia said there was so much music he would like to come back sometime to have a better look. We like to hear that because the collection is a great resource and we encourage musicians and educators to take advantage of it.


Jazz in June is an 18-year tradition that brings thousands of Lincoln residents together every Tuesday in June. The Berman Music foundation is proud to be a long-time supporter of this family-friendly event, and we are happy to show our appreciation to the musicians who entertain us every year.


Thanks to all the local artists, friends and fans of jazz who attended the receptions. We appreciate your support.



Friends of the BMF

"New Harmonies" tour celebrates roots music


By Tom Ineck


The Berman Music Foundation recently awarded a $2,000 grant to the Nebraska Humanities Council for “New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music,” a touring exhibition sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution.


Through its Museum on Main Street program, the Smithsonian makes specially designed traveling exhibitions available only through state humanities councils. By year’s end, “New Harmonies” will have visited six communities in Nebraska, completing the state tour with a stay Oct. 18 through Dec. 31 at Loves Jazz & Arts Center in Omaha. It will be at the Trails and Rails Museum in Kearney July 30-Aug. 29 and at the Cherry County Historical Society Museum in Valentine Sept. 3-Oct. 11. Earlier this year, it had extended runs in Alliance, Cambridge and Columbus.


“New Harmonies” examines the growth of American music, which is as rich and eclectic as the country itself. American music reveals distinct cultural identities "New Harmonies" celebrates American music, including the blues and jazz. [Courtesy Photo]and records the histories of peoples from Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas. "New Harmonies" explores how our country’s ongoing cultural process has made America the birthplace of great music—from jazz and blues to country western, folk and gospel.


With its financial support, the BMF recognizes the connection between the roots music theme of “New Harmonies” and its own mission “to protect and promote unique forms of American music.”


“With the support of the Berman Music Foundation and other sponsors, the Nebraska Humanities Council is able to bring these exhibitions to small, often under-served, museums across the state,” said NHC Program Officer Mary Yager. “Sponsorship allows the NHC to pay the rental fee of the exhibition and provide it at no cost to the small museums. If a museum were to bring in a small traveling exhibit on its own it would cost the museum thousands of dollars.”


Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson [Courtesy Photo]Yager said such sponsorships also allow the NHC to provide a stipend to each museum to help them to promote the exhibition, arrange special programming related to the topic of the exhibition, and create a complimentary exhibit of local interest. Among the goals of Museum on Main Street are to help small museums build their visitor base and membership, and help them increase their capacity to develop exhibits, marketing and programming.


In conjunction with the exhibition’s stop in Kearney, an Aug. 15 lecture and recital program will explore the evolution of country music—one of the musical forms explored in the “New Harmonies” exhibit—from its beginnings in 1920s American folk music through early Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills’ western swing, and Sons of the Pioneers through classics by Hank Williams and Ernest Tubbs to the classic country era of the 1950s and 1960s.


The exhibition of “New Harmonies” in Valentine will coincide with Old West Days, Oct. 1-4, where cowboy poets, musicians, and storytellers will entertain and attendees can explore the exhibit which includes a panel celebrating the singing cowboys Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Tex Ritter.


Loves Jazz & Arts Center will screen their recently produced documentary “All That Omaha Jazz,” host a jazz and blues band, a gospel singer or group, a Native American dance troop, and a contemporary music-spoken word-hip-hop group.




California trip again combines life's pleasures


By Tom Ineck


OCCIDENTAL, Calif.—I hope you’re as fortunate as I am to have dear friends in a place that you love to visit. If so, you know the satisfaction of combining two of life’s pleasures, travel and companionship.


Wade Wright and Terri Hinte outside Cafe Divine [Photo by Tom Ineck]So it is every couple of years, when I fly—or occasionally drive—from Nebraska to Northern California. In late May, I touched down at the San Francisco International Airport in time to pick up my rental car and have a leisurely lunch in the city with friends before heading further north. Wade Wright, a Berman Music Foundation advisor and manager of Jack’s Record Cellar in the city, also helps his brother at Café Divine, where “heavenly cuisine” is the byword. Butch Berman recommended the place in a column he wrote several years ago, and I wanted to check it out in person.


The stars were properly aligned on this occasion, with Wade celebrating a birthday on the day of my arrival. We met before noon and grabbed a sunny table outside the café. We were later joined by Terri Hinte, a Bay area legend among jazz writers and jazz musicians for her longtime work as writer, editor and publicist with Fantasy Inc. and currently fronting her own jazz publicity agency and Terri Hinte and Tom Ineck finally meet outside Cafe Divine. [Photo by Wade Wright]managing the career of saxophonist Sonny Rollins. As a jazz writer, I had corresponded with Terri by mail and e-mail for some 25 years, but we had never met until now.


The three of us had a delightful meal, complete with decadent desserts, and conversation that ranged over many mutual interests. More than three hours later, I rose to head out of town, with great thanks and happy birthday wishes to Wade.


My West Coast odysseys always include a few days in Occidental, a wonderful Sonoma County village of about 1,500 people 60 miles north of the city. I still had a couple of hours to make my rendezvous with a friend there, so I drove—somewhat recklessly—up the winding road to the 2,500-foot peak of Mount Tamalpais and along the scenic coastal highway, an exhilarating ride after my long, cramped flight and sedentary urban experience.


Founded in 1876, Occidental first earned its reputation as a railroad and timber-cutting center, with six sawmills operating in the area by 1877. Some of the Nikki Farrer enjoying the 2009 Healdsburg Jazz Festival [Photo by Tom Ineck]original 19th century buildings still stand, including the Union Hotel, built in 1879. Today it houses one of the best Italian restaurants in the region, and its saloon is a favorite watering hole for area residents. Just across the street is Negri’s, which combines Italian cuisine with a lively bar and occasional live music.


But, like any city that leaves a lasting impression on the visitor, it is the people who make Occidental a favorite return destination. In my case, those people are Joe Phillips, Nikki Farrer, their son, Jobee, and their many friends. Joe and I have known each other since the late 1960s, when we both attended Pius X High School in Lincoln. Joe, Nikki and I later lived together as part of a communal group that settled for a while in Bisbee, Ariz. Later, I returned to Nebraska and they moved to California, eventually migrating up the coast to the country of wine, rivers and redwood forests.


We have never lost touch, though we go months without speaking to each other and years between my visits. It is the essence of friendship that when we do gather, the old familiar thoughts and feelings, the easy camaraderie, come rushing back, almost as though we had never parted ways. Perhaps the 1,500 miles that separate us actually make us closer.


Joe Phillips, Jobee Farrer and Nikki Farrer at the Palette Art Cafe [Photo by Tom Ineck]It certainly helps that we are all inquisitive, broad-minded fans of music, from rock to jazz to world music. That love of music has long been our common ground, so it’s a joy when we can share live performances.


Over the years, my trips to Northern California have often coincided with concerts and festivals, including the Russian River Jazz Festival in 1987, the Cotati Jazz Festival in 1993, the San Francisco Jazz Festival in 1996, a concert by the Frank Zappa tribute band Project Object at the Mystic Theater in Petaluma in 2002, and this year’s Healdsburg Jazz Festival, featured here.


The Healdsburg gathering was especially memorable, as Jobee, now 34, and his girlfriend, Jen, joined us for an afternoon of Brazilian jazz in a small city ballpark. The weather was ideal and the music was joyous and inspired. Two nights later, Joe, Nikki, Jobee and I took in another jazz concert at the Palette Art Café, where we shared plates of appetizers and consumed a few local brews.


Wildflower on the rugged coast above Bodega Bay [Photo by Tom Ineck]On my final full day in the area, Joe and I took a road trip to another favorite place, the rugged, beautiful coast at Bodega Bay, where Alfred Hitchcock filmed much of “The Birds.” It was a glorious spring day, so we hiked the hillsides above the bay, which were profuse with aromatic wildflowers. It was the perfect end to another memorable stay. 


As we reach our late 50s and early 60s and many of our contemporaries take their leave of this life, our visits take on a new urgency. From now on, an annual trip to this neck of the woods is not out of the question. In fact, it seems downright mandatory.



Artist Interview

Kendra Shank returns to Lincoln June 16


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—In a 2009 Jazz in June concert series that features several artists with direct ties to Nebraska, even New Yorker Kendra Shank refers to her recent appearance as “coming home.”


Shank at 2007 Jazz in June performance [File Photo]Shank’s June 16 concert was her quartet’s third at the outdoor venue, having previously performed in 2004 and 2007. The singer first appeared on a Lincoln stage way back in 1995, when the Berman Music Foundation brought her to the Zoo Bar as part of an all-star lineup that included Claude “Fiddler” Williams, pianist Jaki Byard, bassist Earl May and drummer Jackie Williams.


This time, the Kendra Shank Quartet arrived in the midst of a busy touring schedule behind her new CD “Mosaic,” released April 14. That alone raised the excitement level in eager anticipation, not least of all because Shank, over the last decade, has developed a fruitful relationship with the same core group of musicians, pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist Dean Johnson and drummer Tony Moreno.


“Over time, we’ve gotten to know each other so well that it’s like it’s telepathic,” Shank said in a recent phone conversation from her home. “I don’t have to say anything. I don’t give much direction. We’re collaboratively creating these arrangements. Usually it starts with a seed idea of mine.” That creative germ, she said, is just “a stepping-off point” to group communication and personal expression. Her bandmates appreciate that.


“Part of their joy in being a part of this band is that they’re really free. I bring these musicians into the group because I love their playing and I like their The Kendra Shank Quartet at Jazz in June 2007 [File Photo]creative ideas, so I just let them express themselves. That’s the whole point. Jazz is an improvisational art form, so let that happen. That’s what makes this music exciting. You’ve got four people, each of which has their own life experience and their own personality and their own technical ability and their own harmonic sense and rhythmic sense. So each person has something really valuable to contribute.”


After so many years together, “a huge level of trust” is implicit in every performance. “I know these are musicians who listen, who play sensitively, and who are going to make esthetic choices in the moment that serve the music well and that make sense.”


The mutual trust transferred well to the recording studio, where Shanks also added longtime collaborators Billy Drewes on saxophones and clarinet and Ben Monder on guitar. Unlike their previous outing, “A Spirit Free: Abbey Lincoln Songbook,” the new release had no obvious theme. Instead, it was a return to Shank’s earlier records, a varied, well-paced collection of tunes that appealed to her. Only later did she recognize that the 11-track “Mosaic” does have an overarching theme—the many aspects of love.


“So Far Away,” Carole King’s story of lovers separated by space and time, opens the CD. “Life’s Mosaic” updates the Cedar Walton instrumental with lyrics by John and Paula Hackett that turn it into a plea for global community, another form of love. Irving Berlin’s “Blues Skies” is re-imagined with Shank’s "Mosaic," by the Kendra Shank Quartetoriginal improvisation “Reflections in Blue,” and Charlie Chaplin’s forlorn “Smile” is ingeniously combined with “Laughing at Life.” Kimbrough’s own “For Duke” is endowed with a beautiful lyric of love by his wife, composer, vocalist and poet Maryanne De Prophetis.


Long a devotee of the 13th century mystic poet Rumi, Shank included two tunes inspired by him. On one, she combined the verse of “Water from Your Spring” with the Victor Young standard “Beautiful Love” and indicated to the band that the mood should be that of a Zen garden. Several years ago, she suggested that composer Kirk Nurock read some Rumi, after which he presented Shank with “I’ll Meet You There,” using texts adapted from the poet that espouse both spiritual and romantic love. In appreciation, Nurock dedicated the song to Shank, and it closes the CD.


Shank credits the band’s long-standing monthly booking at the 55 Bar in New York for the workshop esthetic that allows and encourages musicians to work up new material over a long period of time. The creative evolution of “Reflections in Blue/Blue Skies” is a case in point.


“I had just done ‘How Deep is the Ocean’ and usually another song will pop right into my head, and then I’ll call the tune,” she explained. “Well, nothing came to mind. I’m just sitting there with a black head. I’m completely blank.” Rather than panic, she leaped into the void with a spontaneous, a cappella vocal improvisation that finally resolved in an oblique reference to the Irving Berlin classic, which was not even in her repertoire. The improvised lyric of “Reflections” deals with love lost and regained, setting the emotional stage for “Blues Skies.”


Other songs included on “Mosaic” are Johnny Mandel’s “The Shining Sea,” a song of loving and longing with lyrics by Peggy Lee, Cole Porter’s immortal “All of You” and Bill Evans’ “Time Remembered,” with lyrics by Paul Lewis.


Shank was thoroughly primed for her Lincoln appearance, having already performed the new repertoire in more than a dozen cities since early April, including Seattle, Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Cincinnati, Richmond, Ken., Cleveland, Cambridge, Mass., and at the Jazz Standard in New York City.



Artist Interview

Gehring returns home to share "Radio Trails"


By Tom Ineck


Ray Gehring [Courtesy Photo]LINCOLN, Neb.—Guitarist Ray Gehring has proved that you CAN go home again. He traveled with his band from Brooklyn, N.Y., for gigs May 20 in Minneapolis, May 21 at the Saddle Creek Bar in Omaha and May 22 at the Zoo Bar in Lincoln, the city where he spent his formative years as a music fan and a fledgling musician.


Gehring’s return as a musician to his home town was a long time coming. A varied life as player, teacher and tour manager took him to Minneapolis, Paris and back to the Twin Cities before he finally wound up on the East Coast in 2000. But he fondly remembers the last time he performed in Lincoln, a jazz-rock fusion gig nearly 20 years ago at Duffy’s Tavern, just around the corner from the Zoo Bar, a nationally known blues club that he recognizes as a Lincoln institution.


“I had a little fusion band when I left Lincoln, playing with a couple guys, just a bassist and a drummer," he said in a recent phone interview from his Brooklyn home. "We were just breaking into the scene of jazz, playing whatever we could. Since I kind of came out of the punk-rock scene, Duffy’s was more my crowd of people.”


In 1989, Gehring’s influences were guitarists John McLaughlin, Mike Stern and John Scofield. A second-year sociology major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, he dreaded the research work, preferring to hang out with musicians, usually in challenging open-stage settings.


“At the time, I was taking guitar lessons from Steve Lawler at Dietze. Once you start playing jazz on the guitar—or any instrument, for that matter—it’s addictive. It’s been 20 years now, and the love for it increases and increases.”


Throughout his career, Gehring has found himself, like many Americans, returning to the music that shaped his early years. In fact, that music was the impetus behind his new recording, "Radio Trails."


“This was a huge concept record, but the whole thing came together because I really need to purge the ‘70s out of my system. I’m a product of the ‘70s—I was born in ’68—and I listened to the radio constantly in the ‘70s. You turned on the radio. That’s how you found your music. Lincoln was a town where music was everywhere. It informed everything you did, everything you went to, everything you wore. Everything you talked about seemed to be centered around music. No wonder I became a musician.”


"Radio Trails," by Ray Gehring & CommonwealthEven in his jazz songwriting, Gehring began to hear evidence of his immersion in 1970s pop-culture radio and TV.


“After a while, you say to yourself, ‘Why does everything end up sounding like a ‘70s TV theme? Why is everything sounding like “Cosby” or something that may have been on “Flip Wilson”? What’s going on here? I need to work through this.’”


With “Radio Trails,” Gehring’s addresses his obsession with the ‘70s head-on. From conception to realization, the recording was almost 10 years in the making, says Gehring.


“What I wanted to do was take the songs of the ‘70s that had the biggest influence on me, and then I stretched beyond that to take some of the singer-songwriters that came out of those bands, and then let’s take the originals that we want—that are influenced by that sound—and put them on the record. And, let’s write lyrics to one, and make it a unique, sincere homage to that period.”


With that in mind, much thought went into choosing and sequencing each of the 10 tunes on the CD, from Supertramp’s “Take the Long Way Home” to The Carpenters’ “Yesterday Once More,” the concluding track.


“It IS yesterday once more. Nothing has changed. Nothing has changed politically. Economically, it seems we are repeating the same behavior. We’ve come a long way, but so much has been coming back.”


Among the other notable songs of the ‘70s are “Big Brother” by Stevie Wonder, “Motions Pictures” by Neil Young and “She,” a soulful country ballad by Gram Parsons and Chris Etheridge, which has also been covered by David Clayton-Thomas, Emmylou Harris and Norah Jones.   


As a nod to the Brazilian Tropicalia movement of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Gehring also chose C. Coqueijo Costa’s “E Preciso Perdoar” and Vinicius Cantuaria’s “Amor Brasiliero.” But the concept album is anchored most obviously by the original tunes, especially Gehring’s haunting “Radial Tales” and the anecdotal “That was the Story.”


To do justice to these tunes, Gehring assembled Commonwealth, a group of compatible musicians and friends, including Bill Carrothers, the German-born Matthias Bublath and Aussie Sean Wayland on keyboards; Dan Gaarder on vocals; Ronen Itzik and Georg Mel on drums and percussion; and Michael O’Brien playing bass on three tracks. Wayland also co-wrote and contributes a fine vocal to “That was the Story.”


“I really hand-selected these guys,” Gehring said. “Carrothers I wanted there to make the artistic calls on the music. I didn’t want to do that. I’m in there to play.” Mixing unique, swinging interpretations of pop standards with a sincere love for the music and a healthy dose of humor, the end result is what Gehring describes as “big-fun jazz.”


Bublath, Gaarder and Twin Cities drummer Joey Van Phillips accompanied the guitarist on their summer tour to the Heartland.


In the last of a series of momentous coincidences, Gehring learned of the death of Butch Berman in January 2008 from an online article that documented Butch’s life as a radio deejay, musician, music collector and all-around music advocate. That was enough to convince Gehring to dedicate “Radio Trails” to Butch.


“My deepest appreciation goes out to the Berman Music Foundation for their contribution and support of this album,” he writes in the liner notes. “May the joy and spirit of music for which Butch Berman worked so tirelessly to perform and promote continue in the hearts of those he supported and beyond.” 


The only time Gehring had a chance to hang out with Butch was in April 1998, when the guitarist was tour manager for an innovative jazz trio called A Band in all Hope, consisting of pianist Bill Carrothers, drummer Bill Stewart and saxophonist Anton Denner. The BMF sponsored a performance by the group at Westbrook Recital Hall in Lincoln, and before the show members and friends of the BMF, Gehring and the band gathered for a relaxing dinner and conversation.


Gehring’s return to Nebraska to share “Radio Trails” with his live audiences not only brings the CD project full circle but re-establishes his early ties to Lincoln and the BMF, a long way home but a serendipitous trail, indeed.



Artist Interview

Bad Plus defies category, challenges listeners


By Tom Ineck


When a jazz group has the good fortune—and tenacity—to stay together for nearly a decade, it develops a personal and musical rapport that is well-nigh telepathic. So it is with The Bad Plus, an acoustic piano trio that defies both categorization and the critics.


The Bad Plus with singer Wendy Lewis (left) [Courtesy Photo]On their latest venture, “For All I Care,” pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King have taken another bold leap forward by adding vocalist Wendy Lewis on a recording that eschews original material for a mix of classic pop songs by artists ranging from Nirvana and the Bee Gees to Pink Floyd and Roger Miller. Tastefully sprinkled among these tracks, as though they were “palate cleansers,” are the band’s unique instrumental interpretations of modern classical melodies by Igor Stravinsky, Gyorgy Legeti and Milton Babbitt.


On its five previous CDs, the Twin Cities trio has occasionally dabbled in audacious covers—Black Sabbath, Blondie, David Bowie and Burt Bacharach, among others—but never to this extent. Since the CD’s release in November, the band and Lewis have spent a lot of time on the road, a tour that brought them to Omaha for an April 24 performance at the 1200 Club in the Holland Center for Performing Arts.


In a recent phone conversation during the band’s week-long hiatus at home, Anderson attempted to answer the persistently nagging question, “How would you describe what you guys do, and how the heck do you do it?”


“The best description that somebody came up with was avant-garde populism,” he said. “It’s just the result of the three of us coming together in a situation that we created so that we could all be ourselves.”


The three of them first came together as The Bad Plus almost 20 years ago, but subsequently went their separate ways before reforming in 2001. Their major-label debut, “These Are the Vistas,” was released in 2003, and they have never looked back.


Anderson cites their common Midwestern roots as a significant factor in their musical compatibility. He and King hail from Minneapolis, while Iverson is from Menominee, Wis.


“I think we share a certain tribal language with each other and a certain sense of the surreal, but also a love of song, a love of clarity in music and we try to just bring it all together and allow that personal voice to come through.”


From its inception, a large part of that personal voice has been composed of irreverence and a tongue-in-cheek approach to familiar melodies. But the end result is never disrespectful.


“We have a basic respect for all that music,” Anderson said. “It starts and ends there. We do these things out of respect because we feel like there’s something to be said, with any of this music. That sets the whole process on that course. That’s why it works together. We don’t do things that we aren’t connected to in some way.”


Two brief liner notes on the band’s first CD illustrate the guiding principles. Their take on Kurt Cobain’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is described as “lovingly deconstructed,” whereas the cover of Deborah Harry’s “Heart of Glass” is called “ruthlessly deconstructed.” Anderson explains:


“You’ve got to have some ruthlessness. You can’t treat all these things like precious pearls. We’re all just here to try to bash out some form of personal expression. That can take a lot of different forms, but you can’t exclude ruthlessness.”


Whether inspired by love or ruthlessness, the music exudes good humor and a wildly adventurous spirit.


“We definitely believe in enjoying what we’re doing, and I hope that comes across in our performances and recordings,” Anderson said. “At the same time, we take music very seriously. The fun part is all the possibilities. Certainly, music should have the capacity to put a smile on your face.”


Anderson said their famous eclecticism was not a product of financial need, as in some cases where a young musician capable of playing in different styles is more likely to make a decent living from his craft.


“That’s never really been the issue. It’s more that we’re just genuinely interested in all these different things. Our gateway into music, in general, was just listening to rock radio and playing in rock bands. We’ve all played jazz in every imaginable stylistic situation. I have a degree in classical music performance. Ethan has played in tango bands. We’ve written music for dance. We’ve kind of done it all, and I think that’s part of the sound of the band. You have all of this authentic experience in all these different things, so when there’s a rock beat in The Bad Plus it’s a real rock beat.”


One of the best examples of that “real rock beat” is the band’s incredible nine-minute recording of Anderson’s intense, stop-time masterpiece “Physical Cities,” from the 2007 release, “Prog.” King’s drum bombast rivals Led Zeppelin’s magisterial tub-thumper John Bonham. Anderson describes the tune’s evolution.


“It actually started at a sound check. Dave and I just started improvising this thing. We thought it was cool and thought it kind of sounded—like you said—like John Bonham. Also, in that tune I was thinking about some things that certain metal bands do, these intense, heavy rhythmic figures that are not immediately discernible. You don’t know exactly what’s going on and kind of get lost in the mantra of it.”


King is responsible for recruiting Lewis for the latest project.


“Dave and Wendy played together about 10 years ago, with her bands, and they had a really good creative relationship,” Anderson explained. “I had heard a little bit of that music, and I always thought about her voice since I heard a couple demo CDs. We were thinking a lot about who to get for this recording, what kind of qualities that person should have. Wendy came up and it just seemed like the right move to make. Ethan had to just trust us. We didn’t even get together with her to try it out. We just gave her a call and said, ‘Hey, do you want to make this record?’ and took a chance, and it worked out great. She’s been incredible to work with.”


Was there any apprehension among the three long-time bandmates about the prospect of working with a vocalist for the first time?


“Yeah, a little bit, at first, just because none of us had worked with Wendy in this kind of a context. She didn’t know what to expect. None of us really knew what to expect or how it would work. We just started from zero, getting together in a room and working out these arrangements. It’s not a process that completely falls into place, even when it’s just the three of us, so we were definitely taking a chance with it.”


From the start, Lewis was an integral part of the recording, from choosing the tunes to working up the arrangements.


“We definitely wanted her to feel like a part of the process and to sing songs that she felt good about singing, even though we did force her to do a couple that she wasn’t at first that enamored with, but now she admits that she likes doing them.” One of those, the 1950s doo-wop classic “Blue Velvet,” didn’t make the cut to CD, but appears on the vinyl version of “For All I Care.”


As usual, the songs underwent a thorough process of deconstruction and reconstruction, but Anderson said the evolution of each track was unique, from Nirvana’s depressing grunge rocker “Lithium” to the alt country drone of Wilco’s “Radio Cure” to the romantic light pop of the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love?” to the slick rock bombast of Heart’s “Barracuda” to Miller’s traditional country weeper “Lock, Stock and Teardrops.” 


“Each one of these tunes is its own world. In doing this kind of music, there is no real road map for how you approach it. We kind of just take every one as it comes and try to agree on what’s the essence of the song and try to make it our own. We were still tweaking arrangements when we were in the studio, so we spent a little time working out some details.”


So how did Stravinsky, Babbitt and Ligeti find their way to the recording studio?


“It was just something that we happened upon as we were conceiving the record. Ethan was practicing these classical music excerpts for something that he was doing. One day Dave started playing along and we all kind of looked at each other and said, ‘Hey, why don’t we do this in The Bad Plus?’ From there, it just made sense to us to put that music on the record.”


For listeners who may not be comfortable with instrumental jazz, the lyrical content may bring new followers to The Bad Plus, but that was never by overt design.  


“I think all of our music has crossover potential, but what do I know?” Anderson joked. “That’s not the intention with which it was made. If it gets us a few more fans, that’s great. It’s a noble challenge to try to present your music and get as many people to enjoy it as possible. It’s very open. We’re not sitting there in our exclusive clubs saying, ‘You’re not going to get this.’ You know what I mean? We’re making music that we want to reach out to people.”


While reaching out to new listeners, the new record also has drawn some criticism.


“It has been a very polarizing record,” Anderson admitted. “We’ve gotten some really extreme reactions on both ends, but we’re kind of used to that, at this point.”


The best testimonial to the phenomenal appeal of The Bad Plus is in their wide-ranging audience.


“Our audience is quite eclectic,” Anderson said. “We have as many hard-core traditional jazz fans as we do young indie rock fans. One of the great things that we see is parents and their kids coming to the show and everybody enjoying it. That’s important and it makes us feel good. It’s not music that’s targeting a certain generation or a certain clique of people.”




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