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Global Bass presents the first interview given for Jeff Berlin’s new solo album:

There are few more quotable bassists out there than Jeff Berlin. Jeff is a journalist’s delight, providing wonderfully developed thoughts peppered with just enough Hot Sauce to catch anyone’s attention. In our previous interview with Jeff we covered a lot of area, clearing up a few misconceptions some people have expressed about his views on playing, rehearsing and what he felt were valid and invalid teaching & learning methods. It was a roller coaster ride of information we felt gave us no recourse but to offer the reader the tongue in cheek notice ‘Warning: Thinking Man Ahead!’

In discussing his newest album, ‘In Harmonies Way’ we find Jeff in fine form, still staggeringly funny and to the point. This new record now points Jeff in a direction he has wanted to head for a long time.

‘In Harmony’s Way’ is a Jazz album. Yes, that’s correct, a Pure Jazz album. Featuring guest players that would make any band leader drool: people like Danny Gottleib on drums, Mike Stern, guitar, Gary Burton on Vibes, David Liebman on Saxophone and someone that Jeff’s feels to be one of the finest musicians he has ever come across, Richard Drexler on piano. 

This ‘A List’ of players has given Jeff the latitude to express himself in a fashion he feels he not only was ready for, but he truly needed as well. In late summer last year, he told us that he felt he was moving into a learning, practicing and playing area he had never been so far into before. He referred to it as being intensely demanding and rewarding at the same time.  

In this interview he talks about the fact he still finds this true and is, primed and ready for some serious live work. 

This highly creative era of Jeff’s life however has been tempered and his resolve has been sharpened by a personal event within the framework of his family that affected him and his family to its very core. 

His son, Jason, a delightful 8-year-old boy, whose highest priority these days is jockeying for time on the computer with his brother Sean, faced a trial we wouldn’t wish on any child. At the age of four, Jason and therefore his family, encountered Lymphoma.  

We will discuss this milestone with Jeff, as well as Jason’s recovery. We’ll also talk to him about his wish to take everything this new album brings and channel it back towards the financial impact that Lymphoma had on Jeff’s family.  

Jeff Berlin is a man that that has stared down the Beast that every good parent fears. It shook him the core and yet, while encountering that core, he found what he was made of. The courage he found in his son and then himself has prepared him to take on the presentation and development of this newest direction in his career and his life.


Over how long a period did the recording go?

I recorded it in 10 days. After doing the tracks with Richard and Danny, I sent it out for some overdubs. Mike Stern, Gary Burton and Dave Liebman overdubbed. When Gary played his vibes part, I changed my bass part to gel with him. I had to do it that way because I couldn’t get everybody together. The trio was there and all the bass solos and piano solos were live.  For Liebman and Stern, I just basically said “Please do the brilliant things your normally do!”  


When I first received the album, I had no clue that you were going to be heading into the Jazz arena. Have you ever ventured into this sort of music before?


Not often on records, but I have in my private playing life. As a leader I am a Jazz musician. Quite frankly, I don’t like fusion. I don’t like the term of it, I don’t like what it represents. Jazz, to me, is an un-recognized musical artform in this country in many areas. I wanted to represent it as well as I could and play as well as I could play. What this session became was some of the most musical bass playing I have ever put on a record.         


While this interview is being conducted, in the back ground at Jeff’s Players School of Music, I can hear the sound of children playing. One of Jeff’s two sons is Jason, an eight year old boy fiercely determined to make sure he gets equal time on his Dad’s computer. The other computer combatant is Sean, his younger brother. I can hear the wonderful chaos of these two kids both living entirely in the moment, as kids do so well.


However, for Jeff and his family, things were not always so joyous. Four years ago, Jason was diagnosed with a form of cancer known as non- Hodgkins lymphoma.


Jeff tells me that it took all that he had to remain ‘up’ for Jason at this time. Of course the lad had very little idea as to what was wrong with him. Jeff also told me that it was very difficult sometimes to come into the room where Jason was and always try to have something funny or positive to say, but that is what a good parent does.


Since the beginning I was totally casual, for his sake. Inside myself, I was an ignited ball of anxiety. Yet, I would walk in and say “Jas, hey man, cool catheter, cool IV drip thing, Wow! you look like a space man.” What else could I do? If I appeared panicked, then he would feel this way too. 


When I first heard about his lymphoma, I was certain I would lose him because that was what we all believed; once you get cancer, then that was it. Subsequently I’ve found out that many people recover fully from it. But, having experienced my son being affected by it, I can tell you that I can never go back to being the same type of person after dealing with this.


Not quite as light of spirit, then?

Now I am light spirited now because I have Jason back. I am more sober to the fact that people’s lives can be altered by this desease in terrible ways, however. My fantasy of a happy life has been tainted now that I know first-hand that there are terribly unfair and cruel things in life.


We knew a boy named Mario who was diagnosed with a particularly vicious cancer when he was a year old. He fought this cancer for four years, he hated the clinic, he hated the treatments. His last words were, “Mommy, I wanna go home”. He meant he wanted to just go home. To his house. And he died in his mother’s arms.


I knew this boy and I shall never forget him.


To put Jason more at ease, Jeff shaved his own head like Jason’s for the period of time that the Chemotherapy removed Jason’s hair. All so the lad would not feel odd or disconnected.


Jeff offered me the opportunity to talk with Jason, a distinct honor considering what they had been through together. This stuff is very personal family business and I found it both brave and classy that they would open up and trust a media person to ask them a few questions about the illness and it’s affect on the family. This is the part where one treads very lightly.


Jeff called Jason over and a shockingly young voice says ’Hi Warren’. Did we all sound like this at 8 years of age? A soft soap like me sits in amazement listening to this tyke talk away about his short and difficult life.


This child has more courage than I have, mixed in with the unquestioned right to be alive: that is all part of being 8 years old.


Wow! I asked him if he felt that he has led an interesting life. There is no need to be too direct here…The wee guys voice pipes up…”Yeah, I know”. I asked him if he knew what the word ‘famous’ meant, referring of course to his dad, and in fact Jason said he didn’t know what that meant. I told him that in this case it meant that there were people all over the world that knew his dad and really liked what his dad does in his music, people that look to him as a bit of a hero, in some ways like he (Jason) must view his own dad, and how I knew his dad saw him.


I asked him, referring to the bald heads the two of them sported during Chemotherapy, whether he thought his dad looked goofy and if they both laughed when they saw Jeff’s bald head. Jason said he didn’t but he liked the fact that his dad didn’t shave off his trademark (my word) moustache.


I figured it best to leave it at that and let him get back to being a kid.


I told Jeff when he returned to the phone, that it was obvious that his 8-year-old has no concept at all of the wild world of music.


Every once in a while it impacts on him that he has a sort-of famous dad. One time, I played an outdoor festival and I brought him along with me. The whole time I was playing, his eyes were WIDE, you know, he was acting very funny that day, going to fetch me water and things like a dry towel. He just became a little starstruck. I was in the middle of a solo when he came out onto the stage uninvited and leaned up against me and stayed there like that for several minutes. The crowd cheered at the end of the solo. I guess he got star struck for a moment. I am pleased that his priorities are more like child priorities though.


I was just looking at the incredible line up you have on this album.


I have a trio plus some guest artists playing on it. Danny Gottleib on drums and Richard Drexler on piano made up the core band. Richard is truly one of the great gifted people I have known. I’ve been so impressed with his musicality, plus he such a wonderful and humorous guy. He gave my song the name ‘Reggae Ricardo’ and wrote and named his tune “Liebman on a Jet Plane”, a real wry sense of humor. I named my tunes ‘This is Your Brain on Jazz” and “Everybody Knows You When You’re Up & In” so we share the same enjoyment of puns.


Has he worked with you before?

He recorded a CD where he took Brahms pieces and arranged them to fit different Latin rhythms. He had like a 1001 guest artists, and I was on that record.


Richard is the real deal. It’s the same thing with Danny Gottlieb, too. I regard him as one of the most musical drummers I ever played with. We’ve known each other for 25 years when we used to jam with Pat Metheny and do gigs with Pat Martino. He’s so special and a terrific guy.


Dann Glenn has mentioned that you and he are looking seriously into a clinic, with Mackie and Dean.


We’re looking into doing something together because…we are both considered rebels in certain circles. What’s more entertaining than watching two difficult pains in the ass on the same stage.

And Danny Gottlieb would be going along with you on this clinic tour.


Yes, but only if he can be an ass as well. Seriously, we’re discussing it and I think that it would be fun to do. I have many years in education aside from playing and I try to make every event I appear at meaningful for the people who come.

Dann has the same, I guess, criteria.  His focus is to help people to think about what they are doing on their instrument. We have two different ways of doing this. Dann is a Vietnam Vet, he’s a Warrior! He’s going to deal with people exactly as people deal with him. If a friend comes up, he’ll deal with him as a friend. But if a guy comes up who goes after Dann, I mean Woe Unto Him. Danny does not take prisoners! 



Moving to the album a bit.


Oh, yeah that!  (Laughs)


Having listened to it a number of times now, I have developed an overview that leaves me with the impression of some sober introspective songs. There is joy, exuberance and an out and out ‘rammy’ attitude there too, but there is that underlying ribbon of solemnity. Where these songs written since Jason contracted his health problem?

All of them were written within about 3 months, the fastest I have ever written. It happened about last Spring to Summer. I got to a place of some real overheated outpouring. Some musical ideas were floating around for a while and I reined them in in order to make works out of them.


That was also about the time you contacted me and said that you were in an intense period in your life where your playing and your practicing habits had never been more intense or more rewarding.


After the music was written, I saw that a lot of it was challenging to me as a soloist. I have always tried to aim high as a player, into what I think of as ‘Dave Liebman country’, into the land of Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny. Because I wanted to aim high as a player, I had a lot of work to do. Even if I fell short, I would still have accomplished more having practiced this stuff. Some of this music is rather difficult.


You’ve raised the bar on your own playing then?

Yes, I have, because even if I miss the bar, I am still trying to jump higher. And I like that about music. So it isn’t merely about playing difficult music just to play difficult music. I just need the challenge sometimes to make me think.


Are you on some level, not so much intimidated, but aware of the fact that there are musicians out there that are further down the path in their careers. Does that excite you or make you nervous?


Yes, it excites me and makes me nervous and I respect them and I am intimidated by them. What this means is that I hear someone like Dave Liebman put his soprano to his lips and come up with music that I would give my right arm to be bring out of my bass. 

The intimidation is that I don’t think I will ever be able to do this. The fun of this is that I can always try.  And that is what I love about music.  


The part that puts me out on a limb is that I want to enter their territory. I want to be able to do what they do on their instruments, but on mine.    


On bass, if you can play four notes in a row, you’re considered a genius in this day and age! If you play anything slightly more than the root note, you’re on the cover of Bass Player.  


If you put my solo side by side to Wayne Shorter, Metheny or Liebman’s or guys like Mike Stern and Richard Drexler or GARY BURTON. Gary Burton is one of the greatest living Jazz soloists in the world!  


These guys are the crème de la crème. Now having achieved some depth that over 40 years in music will bring you, when I hear Gary Burton, I am in even more awe of his playing. And he is going to retire from music soon!


What, he is going to retire?


Yeah, he’s going to quit, he’s going to do what Artie Shaw did, he’s just going to quit. He wants to go on to something else. He had a heart problem, he’s got it repaired, but it has sobered him up to the fact that life is short and there might be some other things in life that might interest him. 


On the album there are some walking bass lines and some overlaid solo’s (consisting of a hell of a lot more notes than four!)  that are going to be difficult doing live. How are you going to get around this?


Either we will have an upright with us or use an Ashbury bass. Richard was the upright bassist on “This Is Your Brain on Jazz”.


I’ve heard recently that from a demographics point of view that Jazz and Blues are selling better than they ever have before. The Baby Boomers are going back to this stuff.




But that couldn’t have been the motivator for Jeff in producing a Jazz album right here and right now?

It was evolution. It was where I came to be at this time and where I seem to wish to stay, at least as a bandleader. I have two lives, one as a sideman and one as a leader.


If I tell you I play rock as well as Jazz, maybe better, because rock is less challenging for me, artistically I choose to do Jazz because the varieties are endless.


In thinking of you in the role of bandleader and listening to the track on this record entitled “Emeril Kicks It Up” (written for Emeril Lagasse, the respected TV Chef)”, I kept getting images of Jeff Berlin as Doc Severinson. It could happen!

I would take a TV show in a red letter second. It’s my medium, because I’m quick witted and TV is a great medium for someone with a quick wit.


In the here and now, however, plans for the touring of this album, are they in the works? And with this present lineup?

Yes, Danny, Richard and I are practically out of the starting gate. All we are trying to do now is set up the venues. It will probably be next year when we go out on the road to play some shows.


What’s the projected release date?

May 10th and it will only be available at my website at


You need as much money from this to come back directly to you as is possible.

Well, I have to reimburse the doctors for treating Jason. That is the reason I will not, for this moment at least, have the CD available anywhere else.


I know you’ve been asked this more than once, but here goes. In recording do you use a mild chorus effect on your solos on this album to add to that great somehow ‘fretless on a fretted’ sound of yours.


Steve Shephard dialed in the sounds. I made some verbal suggestions and he tried to make musical sense out of my thoughts. If I liked what he did, we kept it.


Is your bass somewhat ‘hot rodded’? You are a Dean endorser, but do they send you super basses?

No, it’s not hotrodded. Not in the slightest. It has a volume, tone and pan switch with two pickups and that’s it.

So anybody could get this instrument?

Yes! To make a bass for me and then make another bass with my name on it for everybody else would not be very honest.


Tons of people do it every day.

Well, not me, it’s not my style. If I’m going to sell a product and tell people that I play it, I better well play it. I have two basses, that’s all I own. The two basses are a Dean Standard and a Dean Exotic. The basses I have are standard, right off the rack. What I did do is adjusted them my way. I filed the frets a little bit lower. That’s it!


Does that contribute towards that fretless sound you achieve?

Well, yes, that must contribute to that. I’ve always liked the idea of using frets because I always thought that frets have way more sound possibilities than fretless.


You must be aware of the fact that with the filed frets, the incredible control over your legato and the wide range of vibrato you use in your playing, you actually come across sounding very much like a stand up bass player.


Or a fretless bass in some regards…


Are you working towards that sound as a deliberate effort or is that just the way Jeff plays?


I was a violinist and I’ve learned very well the meaning of playing in tune. What I mean by that is that I would be a good fretless bass player if I decided to play it.  I played a fretless instrument for ten years in my childhood (the violin).


I wanted to make the electric bass not sound like an electric instrument. It’s simply a philosophy of mine. Many electric basses are often ‘active’ instruments, and I don’t like the sound of active instruments. Bass often has a lot of treble and click on it, and I felt that was an artificial sound and I tried to do away with that.


But I am still dealing with an electric instrument. So I am going to have a little bit of fret sound and I am going to have a little bit of ‘click’ sound. 


Is your treble tone pot set to the flat position?


Yes, it is. Close.


In some of your quicker parts, I’ve listened for the sound of your fingers moving over the frets, but it is noticeably missing.


That's also my articulation from my violin days. Because I believe a note has a lot of power, most everything I have ever practiced in my career was note oriented. What I play on the record follows the same traditions I have lived with my entire musical life. They just grew up some.


On the tune “Runaway Train’ you begin the song with a sound very much like the sound of an old steam engine, firing up it’s engines and the wheels turning faster and faster. Did that technique originate the idea for the song or was the song there first?


The technique came first. People are so focused in on slapping, and if you want proof of that, go to any music convention in the world and walk up and down the aisles. Chances are you will hear practically every bass player using the same slap technique on an active instrument, using the same transister-with-tweeter type amplifier all dialed to produce the same bass tone with piercing top end mixed in.

When I heard this playing style and this sound for years and years, I thought, there has JUST GOT TO BE ANOTHER SOUND in the world that other people aren’t using! It’s funny to me that the sound that I was looking for came out of acoustic jazz. In an odd way, these slapping and fretless bass players became the best teachers I’ve ever had, because I knew I didn’t want to do what they do. I respected their skills. I just didn’t want to join that club.


Music is the one thing in my life that I am selfish about. Everything else is negotiable except my music. I say this as a leader, not a sideman. As a sideman, EVERYTHING is negotiable. Whatever my boss wants, I’ll try and give it to him. But, as a player looking for my own voice, all I have to do is listen to what everybody else is doing and go the other direction! It’s easy!


Well, it’s common knowledge that you can play a lot more than four notes in a row, so are you expecting that people will being calling you a seer, saying you are a visionary to the future, when in fact what you are doing is NOT doing what everyone else is DOING. Simple and effective. Brilliance by default.


That’s exactly and 100% the case. I’m simplifying the experience, I know it’s not as simple as I put it, but the philosophy is dead easy to understand. People mostly play the same because this is what they know. I won’t! As soon as I know what everybody else wants to do, I turn around and walk away from it and try to find something else. But you see, most people won’t do this. Many people want instant gratification but music is not an instantly gratifying art form.


No, it takes 15 years before you even start getting any kind of worthwhile investment on your effort timewise.


You’re right, that’s what Dave Liebman said. You can get better over time. You can gig, you can get jobs and over time you can improve. It’s not like someone sits in their room for 15 years. You have to be gigging and playing, these are equally important ways of learning as studying in your room.

Who is the lady singing on Pale Glider?


The ‘lady’ is Steve Shephard (at this point Jeff starts to laugh) It’s a guy…


It’s a guy!! He’s gonna kill me! He sang beautifully! She, who is actually a he, is a fine jazz singer. Very convincing!


He’ll laugh when he reads this. He’s just has a high voice! I was going to go out and get a real singer for this tune. We were sitting there and Steve says, “You know, I could do it!”. I said, “Well, I need a little legitimacy here”.  He says, “No, no, no, I can do this!”


So we set up the mike, he hit the ‘record’ button and he did the tracks three times and they are beautiful! 


They actually are! It worked. He’s gonna kill me!

Yeah, he did a great job! He’s the engineer, he did the mixing AND he did the vocals.


After you have worked this album through it’s natural lifespan, what’s next in recording?

I want to do a live record next. I am oiled and lubed here, I am just so primed and ready to play.


“Let’s get ready to rumble!”



So there you have it. Jeff goes Jazz, and in doing so, he follows his own musical inner voice, harkening back to the kind of music that has always made his soul soar.  


IN HARMONY’S WAY is a smokin’ world class jazz album, but one that also will be a delight to fans of premier bass playing, with solo’s and walking bass lines that will send you back to the woodshed quicker than anything you have heard in a long long time.


Jeff Berlin, one of the world’s finest bass players is back, long overdue, but very much welcomed.




Buy Jeff's CD In Harmony's Way @



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