Gene Bertoncini: The Architecture of Jazz
Old pal Tim Ryan called my attention to an interview Judith Schlesinger, our leading combination jazz writer/psychotheraprist, did with guitarist Gene Bertoncini nearly a year ago. The interview ran on the All About Jazz web site, and I missed it last April. Maybe you missed it, too. It is fascinating for its insights into Bertoncini's musical thinking, his quick wit and his interchanges with Dr. Schlesinger. Verbatim transcribed interviews are far from my favorite form of journalism, but when they work, they can be valuable. This one works.
Here is an exchange that grew out of Judith's mention of Bertoncini's study of architecture at Notre Dame. He didn't realize that he and Antonio Carlos Jobim had architecture in common. Throughout, Bertoncini is identified as GB, Dr. Schlesinger as AAJ.
AAJ: In discussing your music, people often speculate about how your architect training informs your playing. There's another great musician who was also into architecture, and that was Jobim.
AAJ: Apparently he was always good at drawing, so when he got married and needed to make some reliable money, he took the entrance exams for architecture school. But he only studied a year before going back to music.
GB: Wow, that's wonderful! I didn't know that. I owe you for this. We met backstage once. Did he ever talk about being influenced by architecture?
AAJ: Not that I know of, but Goethe once said that architecture was frozen music." What's your take on the connection?
GB: In architecture, you're analyzing a couple of things: artistic balance, balance in design and what constitutes good design, and the needs of people. When designing a structure of any kind you have to be concerned about what's going to be happening inside the structure, and how it's going to make life better for the people in it, whether in a residential or commercial situation. And that opens up all kinds of sensitivities in you. This awareness can easily translate into your music: it becomes a combination of satisfying yourself and being concerned with the needs of the listener.
I'm always thinking about how my music will affect people--I can't wait to play this for somebody, because I think it's going to make them feel good. Then there's the idea of making a presentation, because an architect always has to present a completed concept for a client. The whole concept is there on paper. I believe very much that this has influenced my sense of arranging: I present a concept for each tune I play, pretty much, that I've thought about. There's a beginning and ending and a middle; there's balance, you know, in a harmonic sense, and in a linear sense, like looking at the elevation of a building.
That's one of the reasons why I work out a lot of things on the guitar. It's not just learning the notes, or how to improvise, it's working out arrangements to improvise from. There are things I just play off the top of my head, but for the most part, I want to have a really great concept for each thing I play.