Ed Berger has died…

October 11th, 2008

A depressing email came in from Jan Nye… Ed Berger is off to the big audition, and my guess is he’ll do fine. As he often said, “Tryin’ is lyin’ … if you were tryin’ you’d be doin’ it.” He was doin’ it. I spent a couple years learning a few things about alto from him, and jawin’ at “The Trough” over coffee and his ever-present cigarettes, getting some program reinforcement, a time to stop “tryin” and just start doing it. He has a lot to do with where and who I am today, and I’m grateful for lessons learned. As he would say, “a great human bean...”

Memorial at the AQ tomorrow 5-9 p.m. From the AQ site:

Eddie Berger will be remembered in music and stories by friends and fellow musicians.

* Music starts at 5 p.m. and is expected to go until 9 p.m. or so
* Rhythm section: Mikkel Romstad (piano), Anthony Cox (bass), Phil Hey (drums)
* Anyone else who wants to play—everyone welcome
* Expecting old-school players from Eddie’s past, members of the TC jazz community
* People will share memories, bring food (potluck)

Photo by Tom Gitelson

And in the STrib:

Alto sax player Eddie Berger brought bebop to Minnesota

The Minneapolis man was hailed by musicians and aficionados as a mainstay of the Twin Cities jazz scene.

By BEN COHEN, Star Tribune

When Eddie Berger, a Twin Cities jazz saxophone mainstay, was growing up in Philadelphia, he was a clarinet player.

In his early years, he was partial to swing music, idolizing the likes of Benny Goodman. But after pioneering bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker arrived on the scene, Berger changed his allegiance and his instrument.

Berger moved to Minneapolis in 1959 and established it as a beachhead for bebop in the Upper Midwest. He died of lung disease Oct. 4 in Minneapolis. He was 76.

During the past 16 years, he had been ill with heart disease, emphysema and colon cancer. Still, he performed until a year ago. A respirator was a part of his stage equipment.

He was a towering jazz figure in the Twin Cities, said Phil Hey of Hopkins, a longtime drummer with Berger.

“He taught a whole lot of us around here about the style of Charlie Parker, how you get from note to note, how you put those ideas together, and about the rhythm,” Hey said.

In the early 1950s, Berger served in the Army, playing in a military band in Hawaii. He landed in Minneapolis in 1959, tired of life on the road, touring the country. He established long-running showcases at William’s Pub and the old Artists’ Quarter.

“Ed was a great mentor to a lot of younger musicians, myself included,” said Kenny Horst, a drummer who owns the Artists’ Quarter club in St. Paul. “He was a sweet guy.”

Berger taught at the West Bank School of Music and South High School in Minneapolis and out of his home.

He gave band mates and students more than lessons. “‘Get there early to get how the room feels, and be ready to play,'” Hey said he admonished.

After beating chemical dependency 30 years ago, he also warned of its dangers, and that musicians were especially subject to its allure.

“You either choose life, or you choose death,” Hey quoted him as saying.

Sax player Dave Karr of Minneapolis called him a jazz “purist.”

“When you heard Eddie, you knew you were getting all of him,” Karr said.

After earning a broadcasting degree from the Brown College of Minnesota, he hosted a jazz program on KFAI Radio for 25 years.

He instilled his performances with comedy but was always serious about jazz, said his partner, Nancy Grindland of Minneapolis.

He was an avid sports fan, fond of the Phillies baseball team. He once played semi-professional baseball.

His wife, Darlene, died 35 years ago.

In addition to Nancy, he is survived by his son, Ed Berger, of Mountain Lake, Minn.; daughter, Dawn Voelker, of Belle Plaine; sister, Kay Benvenuto, of Galloway, N.J.; and one granddaughter.

A memorial celebration will be from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday in the Artists’ Quarter, 408 St. Peter St., St Paul.

2 Responses to “Ed Berger has died…”

  1. Ross Currier Says:

    Hey Carol –

    I was going to post something about Ed’s passing on Locally Grown but then figured there are too few folks south of the river who could relate.

    As you know, Eddie used to hang out at the New Riverside Cafe, drinking coffee and “holding court”. Once or twice a year, he’d even play on that funky little stage. I consider myself very lucky to have caught some of his performances.

    …and, of course, I used to be within range of KFAI, and could catch his radio show. It was a major contributor to my Music History education.

    Thanks for the post,


  2. Nancy Rippe-Burtchaell Says:

    I’m sorry I was unable to attend the memorial. Here it is All Saints Day in New Orleans and a blast from the past just called to let me know. I knew Ed back
    in the mid-eighties. I studied with him, drank his black coffee and we started playing sax duets for fun and sometimes at the Riverside Cafe. He got me a jazz show at KFAI, which I loved doing. He recorded me with some of his musician friends. He was a funny, kind person. When I was struggling he’d tell me “noone can make you feel bad about yourself unless you let them.” He even fed me a couple of times when I was starving! What character and pure love for the music to play through his illness…was an honor to know him.
    Nancy Rippe-Burtchaell

Leave a Reply