Tim Berne was born in Syracuse, New
York in 1954, and was subjected to a perfectly normal childhood.
But he didn't decide to take up music until nearly twenty years later when
he was attending Lewis and Clark College in Oregon, putting most of his
energy into intramural basketball. At this point, while resting a
sore ankle in his dormitory, Berne encountered a saxophonist who was selling
his alto, and bought it on impulse. "There was just something about
the sound of the saxophone that got to me," he says.
Musically, up to that point, Berne had
always been motivated by all types of music, but especially by the great
Stax artists like Sam and Dave and Johnnie Taylor, as well as Motown artists
like Martha and the Vandellas and Gladys Knight. This passion for
the soulful quality in music would follow him for the rest of his career,
a career that he could not possibly foreseen at the time. "I hadn't
listened to much jazz, but then I heard Julius Hemphill's album Dogon
A.D., and that completely turned me around. It captured everything
I liked in music. It had this Stax/R&B sensibility and it had
this other wildness. It was incredible. That's when I started
Berne moved to New York in 1974, sought
Hemphill out, and entered into a sort-of apprenticeship with the elder
musician. The "lessons" they had together lasted for hours and covered
everything from composition to record promotion to recording to pasting
up handbills to aspects of magic and spirituality and, sometimes, even
playing the saxophone. "From the beginning," Berne says, "even while
I was still learning to play the saxophone, Julius always encouraged me
to write my own music as well. So it never occurred to me that most
people don't play their own music or aren't bandleaders. I thought
that was just part of it. You learn how to play music, you start
a band, and that's it. Julius didn't offer me one system, but a lot
of possibilities, with the emphasis always on ideas and sound."
Berne began issuing his own albums on his
own Empire label in 1979. Over the next five years he would
record and distribute five albums under his own name which included such
musicians as Ed Schuller, Olu Dara, Paul Motian, John Carter, Glenn Ferris
and Bill Frisell. Following two recordings for the Italian Soul Note
label, Berne recorded Fulton Street Maul and Sanctified Dreams
for Columbia Records. These recordings coincided with an increasingly
active worldwide touring schedule.
In 1988 Berne began a long relationship
with the JMT label with the first of two recordings with the co-operative
Miniature (with Joey Baron and Hank Roberts). In 1989 Berne's
JMT release Fractured Fairy Tales was hailed as a masterpiece by
the New York Times. Berne's JMT legacy climaxed with the historic
Paris Concerts given by his quartet bloodcount, released in three
volumes (Lowlife, Poisoned Minds and Memory Select).
These recordings have received unanimous praise. Since 1994, bloodcount
has performed over 250 concerts worldwide.
In 1996 Berne once again founded his own
record label, Screwgun, and released a three CD set of live recordings
by bloodcount, Unwound. He also had a new string quartet, dry
ink, silence, premiered by the Kronos Quartet at the Brooklyn Academy
of Music. 1997 has found Berne touring the U.S. and Europe with bloodcount,
writing music for large ensemble on commission, and preparing the next
three Screwgun releases by his bands bloodcount and Paraphrase.
In addition, a recording of The Visible Man, a piece commissioned
in 1992 for the Rova Saxophone Quartet, has just been issued on a disc
called The Works, Volume 2 on the Black Saint label.
New York State Council on the Arts
New York State Foundation for the Arts
Readers Digest/Meet the Composer (for the
Kronos Quartet and the Rova Saxophone Quartet)
Birmingham Jazz (for Caos Totale with Django
British Arts Council Touring Fellowship for
Djerassi Foundation (California)
MacDowell Colony (New Hampshire)
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