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March 2008

Prez Sez


Faithful readers and fans of the Berman Music Foundation: With the passing of Butch Berman, the usual "Prez Sez" columns that we have come to know and love are, regrettably, a thing of the past. As the BMF begins its journey into the future, we offer the following column by Tony Rager, the foundation's longtime friend and "legal eagle." 


BMF to continue its mission "into the future"


Allow me to introduce myself and to discuss the future of the Berman Music Foundation.


Tony Rager and Butch Berman in New York City in 1999I am Tony Rager and on Jan. 31, like many of you, I lost a very dear friend. As a result, I became the trustee of the Berman Music Foundation, and I am now charged with fulfilling the mission that is the Berman Music Foundation.


My preference would have been to remain behind the scenes and allow Butch to continue to bebop his way through each and every day. Like most of you, I assumed that Butch, the person, would be around forever. I did not know him as long as many of you did, but we had contact on an almost-daily basis over the last 14 years. We met, usually at his house, every other Thursday.


Butch, the person, may be gone, but his vision, his spirit and his foundation will continue. His ultimate legacy is yet to be written... and it will have many chapters.


Many of you who have visited the BMF website or who have had anything to do with Butch know that he established the Berman Music Foundation in the spring of 1995 “in order to protect and promote unique forms of jazz music during Butch's lifetime and into the future.” Into the future... right now. Butch’s wife, Grace, and I have met many times to discuss BMF and plans for the future. Grace will continue to be an integral part of BMF, and her special insight will provide a unique perspective.


Butch realized that no one person could have his extensive knowledge of and passion for all forms of music and Americana, so he selected an amazing group of BMF advisors and he cultivated numerous friends of BMF. My job is to utilize these resources to continue the mission of BMF. We are scheduled to have a BMF advisors meeting March 23, just before the celebration of Butch’s life at the Cornhusker Hotel, where we will discuss short-term and long-term plans.


The Sunday before Butch died, he and I met and talked for about three hours. Thank you, Grace, for this opportunity. Sunday was the last day that Butch was able to talk, and we talked about everything—jazz, “Leave it to Beaver” versus “The Beverly Hillbillies” (“Leave it to Beaver” won, hands down, according to Butch), whether he would have a cute nurse (yes, he still had his ribald sense of humor), the San Francisco Giants, all of his friends (he was so thankful for all of you), the Cronin Brothers and the band’s gig scheduled for February, and Grace, his forever special angel. 


We spent quite a bit of time talking about BMF’s short-term projects, including the Russ Long/NJO tribute concert in May, BMF’s involvement in Jazz in June and Paul’s continued amazing work on cataloguing the extensive museum collection. But, mostly, we talked about a benefit concert for Butch’s dear friend and BMF advisor, Norman Hedman. Norman was just getting ready to begin his own treatment for cancer and this benefit concert is what Butch wanted to discuss. He was giving me a list of musicians that he thought would be perfect, possible dates, and the names of the best New York venues to stage this event, and he was talking as fast as... well, as fast as Butch.


My intent in going over to Butch’s house that day was not for a “formal meeting,” so I did not bring pen or paper. When Butch noticed that I was not writing anything down, he gently reprimanded me and told me to get a piece of paper and a pen because there was no way I would remember everything he was telling me. He was right. He gave me addresses and phone numbers, as if I were typing in a request to Google. 


His total recall was incredible, but what amazed me most was how he was more concerned about Norman’s situation than his own situation. I jokingly told him that it was too bad that some people did not see how his compassion was bigger than his ego, and he whispered to me that we needed to keep that secret between us. Sorry, Butch, I decided to let that one out of the bag. I could write a novel about my experiences with Butch (“Thursdays with Butch”?), but that is for another time and another place.


This newsletter will continue, and Tom Ineck will continue to serve as the editor and primary columnist for the newsletter. Tom has plans to infuse the spirit of Butch into each newsletter, but I’ll let those little tidbits be a surprise for you. We may have guest columnists, and we would like to have each of the advisors at times write a column of introduction to give you a better idea of team BMF. Periodically, you will even hear from me. Thanks, Tom, for your continued great work.


So, we begin... into the future—right now. Turn the page with me and let us begin the next chapter in the Berman Music Foundation… may the music never end.


Tony Rager

BMF Trustee



January 2008

Prez Sez


To my dear, faithful, loving friends, fans and supporters,


Butch and Grace Sankey Berman in 2005 [File Photo]What a long, strange trip it’s been. Even though I have no recollection of it, on the night of Sunday Oct. 1, after watching “Desperate Housewives” with my perfect darling wife, Grace, I guess I didn’t feel well, went over to her house, and had some sort of weird seizure. They rushed me to the hospital, and to find out why I had the seizure they induced me into a six-day-long coma.


They luckily found only a little brain lesion that may have caused it, and had a bit of a time bringing me out of it. How odd to wake up in an unfamiliar hospital room surrounded by all of your worried friends not knowing why you were there. With tears streaming down my eyes as I write this, I want to thank all of you for loving and praying me back to life, so to speak. I can’t tell you all how much I love all of you for loving me so much.


The Cronin BrothersI finally woke up, got back to my beloved home and within a few weeks even played again with my band The Cronin Brothers at the Zoo Bar, to a packed house of caring people who cried and danced at the same time seeing me back on stage. A moving experience I’ll never want to forget.


Then a month later, the same problem kinda crept up on me again, where the same lesion started bleeding in my brain, causing me to suffer a small stroke. I was working out with my dear friend and personal trainer Cole Maranville, who noticed I wasn’t driving or functioning like myself, and after I saw my neurologist a few days later and had an MRI of my twisted brain I was rushed into surgery where, thank God, I recovered, and regained my sort-of-normal self to this day, where I’m journaling this all to you all.


Since then the pathology report was a little grim, but I’m not buying into the negative possibilities that all the well-meaning docs speculate. I continue to feel great and am enjoying the cherished, wonderful quality of life we all have the choices to embrace and am playing my guitar, piano and singing with my band and working out on a regular basis with Cole and truly feel my old self with just a little discomfort where the stitches and staples were. I’m able to walk my doggie, Peanut, a mile or two daily, and have regained all of my functions and hearty appetites that define our identities.


I believe in combining the amazing powers of mind, body and spirit to heal without resorting to some of the more unpleasant medical procedures suggested by the docs who don’t really know the real Butch Berman like you and I know him. I just want to live out my life with the same pleasant goals I’ve always had. Thank God there were some benefits to all of this, as I cleaned up my act in many ways following the first seizure, stopping my old hippie ways of smoking myself into oblivion and eating poorly and not truly appreciating what is really essential in the journey we call life.


I’m enjoying a clarity of thought I hadn’t experienced for a long time and the loss of nearly 40 pounds. I went into surgery the healthiest I’ve ever been in my adult life, with all of my vitals intact and registering numbers of clean living that astounded me how much better the quality of life can be. Grace and I are now happier than ever before and I love every minute of it. Sure, we’re all gonna croak someday, but I plan to stick around a lot longer than most of the docs. New dear friends like Jasung Kim, an excellent therapist, and his mate, Rose, my long-term massage lady and pal, Kassi Riordan, and best buddies like my legal eagles Tony Rager and Dan Stogsdill from the superb law firm of Cline Williams have formed the “Team Butch” to keep me groovin’, hopefully for years to come.


Of course, along with the healing powers of music that have created and shaped an existence that has defined me for most of my life, you and the rest of my loyal pals have willed me back to where I sit tonight. Thank God for you all. I’m reading some wonderful literature to keep my mind on positive affirmations in the right direction, and I’m even doing some chanting with some of my Buddhist followers that keeps me from regretfulness, anger, sadness and the fear that can feed upon itself and block the blessed forms and tools of recovery that are getting me through all of this.


I would be remiss if I didn’t single out some special friends who truly went beyond the call of duty to aid in my recovery. Dozens of Grace’s and my African friends came out in droves to help cheer me up and express their kindness and caring, a well-known African tradition that is a total and lovely reality. Old pal Joyce Latrom brought over some of her mom’s dynamite Xmas sugar cookies, some of the best medicine I had. My trusted BMF assistant Ruthann Nahorny came by on a regular basis to use her physical therapy skills. My long time hair stylist Tawnya Douglass, carrying her yet-to-be-born twins, was one of the first on the spot to check me out.


My 30-years-plus Ping-Pong buddies Brad Krieger and his mate, Kathy, were regular visitors, along with Daniel Nelson, who actually helped spoon-feed me some of that rotten hospital food when I was having trouble handling the silverware. His visible tears of joy upon my awaking will always be fondly remembered by me for the rest of our long-term friendship. My trusted Jazz newsletter editor, Tom Ineck, dedicated his entire KZUM “NightTown” radio show to me one Thursday night, which was beautiful and recorded for ever to remind me of how important our friends are for all the good things about life we sometimes take for granted.


Butch Berman and Norman Hedman in 2004 [File Photo]Two of my best friends ever, Wade Wright from San Francisco and Norman Hedman from New York City, checked in with heartfelt phone calls almost daily. Norman’s been dealing with a few health issues himself, so please join me in sending him your kind thoughts and prayers for a speedy recovery as well. All of us in our late 50s and early 60s all plan to be happy, health old buddies for years to come and enjoy our shared interests.


And, of course, last but not least, my beautiful wife, the amazing Grace Sankey-Berman was and is truly my saving Grace, as her love and non-stop care of me chases away the fears and bad memories from all of this rather nightmarish experience, on a 24/7 continued basis. A god-sent nurse who gives me reasons to exist with positivity, with every breath I take, my loving angel. My sister-in-law Lois from Nigeria also showed up to lend love and support. Let’s wish her a safe and restful journey home despite the usual first of December winter weather we’re having as I write this.


Now, let’s move away from me and get into the world of music that I have loved sharing with you within these Jazz newsletters over the past 13 years. Get ready for some good news ahead.


This was one Thanksgiving season I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Even though I’m no longer doing my “Soul Stew” and “Reboppin’ Revisited” radio shows, I do hope to be back on the air on perhaps another local radio channel in the very near future, as I miss and loved doing my shows and the opportunities to both entertain and educate my faithful fans with the gifts of music I’ve carried with me my entire life. I will keep you all posted on details when I hear more.


Doug Campbell and Butch Berman in 2004 [File Photo]My old pal Doug Campbell and Marthana Florence from Jazz in June dropped by on a recent Sunday afternoon to gather input from me on the possibilities of the BMF being included for the upcoming 2008 season with some artists I feel will keep the tradition of Jazz in June as jazzy as it was in the earlier days when the BMF was more active. Keep your fingers crossed for this situation to be continued.


Lots of new, great CDs have come to me over the past few months and I will share them with you in this issue’s “Discorama” column. Dig it, music lovers.


Mavis Staples [Courtesy Photo]The Lied Center for Performing Arts is a nice venue when the sound system is working properly, and it was on Oct. 29, the night that “Solid Blues” was presented, featuring the still-powerful Mavis Staples. Grace and I saw her in 2003, during our honeymoon in Chicago, doing a tribute to Spike Lee’s great musical soundtracks. The late, great Gerald LeVert gave one of his last shows that night. Also on hand Oct. 29 was one of the best remaining harp players in the blues biz, Charlie Musselwhite, who cracked up the large crowd when he said it was great being back in Madison. Maybe he’s had a few too many nights on the road. He did mention the Zoo Bar, and after the show he dropped by to jam with Magic Slim. The back-up band for all of them were the sensational, young North Mississippi Allstars, who cooked their asses off and are well on their way to becoming monster all-stars of the next few decades to come. It was a lovely night, indeed, and one of my first outings after my first sick spell.


If you don’t already know this by now, my home, which is the base of my Berman Music Foundation, is legally a museum that I plan to keep preserving and protecting, with all forms of my incredible collection of great Americana music of a wide variety of styles, including 45s and LP records, VHS and DVD films and a huge library of books depicting all of the aforementioned. Hopefully, it will be preserved for many years after my final demise (I plan to stick around until I’m at least 91, as predicted by some of the spiritualists I believe and subscribe in). You know me by now—Berman’s the name and positivity is the game.


Butch Berman and friends in the BMF museum [File Photo]Then my foundation and house can be utilized by many a wide variety of folks, especially the younger ones who need to be aware of this invaluable musical heritage I’ve amassed since my youth, from the 1950s to the 21st century. People can come to study the history of some of the legends of our musical and film history. From Hendrix to Coltrane, girl groups to surf and garage, as well as embracing all the unforgettable film-makers of our time, from film noir, horror, comedy and classics to movies made abroad, including the works of Bergman, Fellini, Hitchcock and all of our current auteurs. There will always be staff working here to assist, and donations will help keep this project a valuable tool for years to come.


I finally found the right individual to index all of the above materials on my computer, to keep tract of a collection that took many years to accumulate. Thanks to my ever-so-handyman Terry Schwimmer, who introduced me to his pal and master historian Paul Kelly, this amazingly difficult chore is now in effect and set for future use for years to come. Paul’s computer skills and brilliant mind are making my long-time dreams a blessed reality. Bird lives and so do I, now sleeping well at night knowing all of my years of work and collecting were not in vain.


A major thank-you to Terry, Paul and the Cline Williams law firm that handles my trust and enables all of these worthwhile projects to become realities, for years to come. I know my time will come some day, but I plan to check out the same way I plan on living, with my zest and lust for life and the quality in which we all have the choice to follow and carry on. Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers, and I promise you my self and the Berman Music Foundation will carry on entertaining and educating you all because that’s what we’re all about.


With that I’ll close with best wishes for you all for a joyous Christmas and a Happy and Rockin’ New Year that we can all dig and groove on.


God bless you all,


Butch Berman


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