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Progressive Rock Interviews

Jeff Berlin

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Jeff Berlin from 2022

Your latest album is a tribute to Jack Bruce called "Jack Songs." I've listened to it a few times and would like to ask a few questions about it. First, how did you approach this music? In other words what were your goals and how did you about accomplishing them?

Jack was a great musician with a big catalog of music. I never felt that my doing covers of his songs would approach the excellence of the originals. So, I arranged his songs to sometimes include two or three of Jack’s songs in each piece in order to make a mélange of his music but showcasing it in an original way. And, amazingly, the arrangements worked.
MSJ: The sound of the album seems to be all over the place in a lot of ways. What do you see as the unifying elements and how would you describe it?
The drums, bass, and overall sound are the unifiers. You are right; the “all over the place” aspect comes from my attempt to make each song varied and different as I felt that this would be an original concept. Sgt. Pepper was like this, as well, and that record along with the astonishing production of The Beatles-Love inspired me to follow the same sort of variety.
MSJ: You have a number of guest musicians on the disc. How did you choose who to bring on-board, and how did the experience go?
These guests made the album. I asked friends like Sammy Hagar, Geddy Lee, and Alex Lifeson if they would contribute solos and parts to give the listener a roller coaster musical ride, going from one player to the next. Each song features someone different again to make each song its own unique work. These great guests lifted the music to become something quite special.
MSJ: Do you have any favorite moments in the making of the album?
Well, as a bass player, I’d say that recording my two solos were standouts for me as I sought to present my bass solos in really intense and melodic ways. But, hearing Sammy singing on "L’Angelo Misterioso" is a standout moment for me as I’ve always been a big fan of his singing.
MSJ: What about favorite songs on the disc?
I suppose that "Creamed" is my favorite since it is special in that there are five of Jack’s best known Cream tunes in one arrangement.
MSJ: What do you hope or think Jack Bruce would think of the album if he could hear it?
Jack was a 100-percent musician. We were friends and talked about music pretty often. I would like to think that he would have loved the record as its pursuit of something different appealed to his musical nature.
MSJ: On a thornier subject, you've had some pretty thorny relationships with music educators over the years. Would you care to elaborate on some of that - in other words your theories, how it clashed with others and any other comments you'd like to make on that topic?
I’m glad that you asked this question! There wasn’t a single teacher or student or school that ever deserved to be the target of my critical comments. Not one! In therapy, I learned about the root cause of my critical behavior, and it made me sick to see just how hurtful and exclusionary my behavior was. I ended this behavior completely and I apologized to any teacher or student that I wronged by my comments. I wrote apology letters to Berklee teachers, the Dean of the School, Steve Bailey, Victor Wooten and anyone that I found who was a target of my uncalled-for comments and hoped to convey my deep regret for my behavior. I’ll never criticize like this again. I want to be a part of the educational community and embrace them as fellow teachers and work alongside people instead of criticizing anyone ever again due to my own unconscious ignorance and the results from them. I really regret this part of my life.
MSJ: I know you've played with a lot of different musicians over the years. Are there any gigs or musical moments that really stand out amongst all those collaborations?
I suppose that gigs with Scott Henderson and Dennis Chambers are among the best of my career. We were playing at such a high level of improv and interaction every night in regards to improvising and interaction.
MSJ: Do you have still have any musicians you'd like to play with but haven't had the chance thus far?
Jeff Beck is someone that I would love to play with. I feel that we are kindred musical spirits.
MSJ: What's ahead for you?
I’m touring the Jack Bruce album next year as well as doing a jazz tour in Europe. Also, I’m also touring a bass class where if people want to improve their bass playing, I will fly to them and host a class. I have quite a collection of ideas that might help them.
MSJ: What was the most recent music purchase you've made and/or what have you been listening to lately?
It was a Jonas Kaufmann record of him singing La Boheme! I’m also a huge fan of Wynton Marsalis and Keith Jarrett.
MSJ: Do you remember the first album you bought?
Not really, but, my guess is that it was a Beatles record.
MSJ: Have you managed to catch any live shows lately just because you wanted to check them out, and if so who did you see?
I contracted the Covid variant this summer and I had a hard bout with the virus even after four shots. So, I confess not having gone out to hear live music in a while. I cancelled gigs this year after I got sick because, in part, I was concerned that people might get what I had by sitting so close together.
MSJ: Do you remember your first concert?
I do! I was 15 and I saw Cream play at Madison Square Garden,
MSJ: Have you come across any new gear recently that you love?
For recording Jack Songs, I found that Markbass’ 15 inch combo called the "Playerschool" mixed perfectly with my d.i. tone from my bass. Other than Markbass’ Overdrive Pedal and EBS Chorus, I guess that I’m a bit ignorant on new pedals and such.  But, I am open to seeing what else is out there as I’m interested in new sounds.
MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you'd like to get out there?

Just to send people love!

MSJ: This interview is available in book (paperback and hardcover) form in Music Street Journal: 2022  Volume 6. More information and purchase links can be found at:
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