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Saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi's recipe for music is 'Extra Extra' on this new album


This is FRESH AIR. Tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi is a Boston institution, a longtime educator and presence in the city's jazz rooms. He's made dozens of records in Europe and dozens of his own, alongside even more records as a sideman with Dave Brubeck and many others. Still, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says Bergonzi might be better known making records as good as his latest.


MOSLEY: Jerry Bergonzi on the title tune to his album "Extra Extra." Back in the day, newspaper vendors would yell that to call attention to a breaking story. The album "Extra Extra" is deceptively casual. The saxophonist and some frequent colleagues play a few of his mostly older tunes - no big concept, no headline guest stars. But that relaxed setting is conducive to improvising, to creating in the moment without distractions. Even when Jerry Bergonzi darts around the tenor saxophone, you hear his cool confidence, his poise and self-possession as when he revisits his 2008 tune "Obama."


KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Jerry Bergonzi with Boston's Luther Grey on drums and bassist Harvie S up from New York to produce the session. On Bergonzi's oldie "Loudzee," floating guitar and a sunny bossa nova beat set up the leader for some Stan Getzy (ph) paragliding. But Bergonzi has his own voice with its own cry. He's nimble, approaching a beat or chord from any direction. He gets a consistent tone from tenors top to bottom that still has a softness to it, a vulnerability. And even when he's revved up, he leaves space in a solo to let pretty phrases sink in.


WHITEHEAD: Like many Boston jazz musicians, Jerry Bergonzi also teaches. He has a series of jazz instruction books full of practical exercises to get players going. On his new album, there's good give and take between him and old allies. Those include trumpeter Phil Grenadier, who's on three tunes, including that bossa nova, where he takes the album's first solo.


WHITEHEAD: One Bostonian newer to Bergonzi's circle is guitarist Sheryl Bailey, who's crisp and boots things along with a light touch. As ever, buoyant jazz propulsion is in the rhythmic details, where you place a note and when you cut it off. There are also those small shifts in texture or dynamics, like the moment on "Double Billed" when Luther Gray switches from wire brushes to drumsticks just before solo guitar hands off to tenor. It creates a subtle change in air pressure.


WHITEHEAD: Jerry Bergonzi's album "Extra Extra" confirms that no matter how much or little pre-planning goes on, the success of improvised music hinges on the chemistry among the players, like this crew, who listen and support each other, bring their own ideas, form temporary alliances and give a soloist breathing room. Throw in a leader in full command of their instrument and ready to play, and you have Jerry Bergonzi's recipe for music that's "Extra Extra" good.


MOSLEY: Kevin Whitehead is the author of the books "Play The Way You Feel: The Essential Guide To Jazz Stories On Film," "New Dutch Swing," and "Why Jazz?" He reviewed Jerry Bergonzi's new album "Extra Extra." Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, the search for God and for meaning. We talk with poet and writer Christian Wiman. He says after he was diagnosed with a rare and incurable form of cancer, in spite of all of his modern secular instincts, he turned to what he learned to call God. His new book is called "Zero At The Bone: 50 Entries Against Despair." I hope you can join us.


MOSLEY: To keep up with what's on the show and to get highlights of our interviews, follow us on Instagram at @NPRFreshAir. FRESH AIR'S executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Ann Marie Baldonado, Therese Madden, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Tonya Mosley.

(SOUNDBITE OF THELONIOUS MONK'S "IN WALKED BUD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kevin Whitehead is the jazz critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Currently he reviews for The Audio Beat and Point of Departure.

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