The Wire

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Borah Bergman RIP

Avant garde jazz pianist Borah Bergman has died at the age of 85 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Born in 1926 to Russian Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn, Bergman learnt the piano and clarinet as a child. After joining the army in 1945 and being stationed in Germany (where he was made to play in a band for his fellow soldiers), Bergman returned to the US and studied to become a dentist. When his father died, Bergman relates, in The Wire 235, "I became more impetuous and decided to actually study piano." Influenced by jazz pianists like Earl Hines, Lennie Tristano, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, Bergman at first played bebop, but when he "heard Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry in a record store, I felt that this was some of the sanest music I had heard in a long time."

Bergman was well known for his "ambi-ideation" technique, where he trained his left hand to be as dextrous as his right when playing, spending long periods composing and improvising exclusively with his left hand.

During much of his career Bergman taught music while performing more mainstream jazz. In the 70s Bergman started releasing solo recordings, most importantly the ones made for producer Hank O'Neal and his Chiascuro label. Up until the 1990s Bergman recorded solo, but later started collaborating with people like Evan Parker, Oliver Lake and Lol Coxhill, and releasing albums on Knitting Factory Works and John Zorn's Tzadik label.