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Pat Bergeson: Playing Jazz and Improvised Music

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Jazz Guitar Today continues the ‘Jazz in Nashville’ series. Editor Bob Bakert speaks with Pat Bergeson.

JGT: How much is jazz batted about among the Nashville players?  Is there a growing interest in jazz and its many iterations?

Pat: There has always been an interest in Jazz among many guitarists that I have noticed in my 28 years of living in Nashville, and also, dating back to the days of Chet Atkins and Hank Garland. I have also noticed a growing interest in jazz guitar from many of the young players I have met here. Also, Texas swing and Country swing IS jazz. It is also a big part of country music. They all kind of go hand in hand. There has always been a thriving Jazz scene in Nashville in general. Especially now with the opening of Rudy’s Jazz Room which is the first full-fledged Jazz club that has opened here in at least 30 years.

JGT: What is your favorite style to play? 

Pat: I don’t know if I have favorite style to play. I do enjoy playing Jazz very much as long as I feel that the type of jazz I am playing is communicating and connecting to an audience in some kind of positive way. I am probably best at improvising in the context of Jazz, Rock, Funk and Blues. So I think I just like improvising the best.

Pat Bergeson performing
Pat Bergeson on harmonica

JGT: What is your music education, formal or otherwise? 

Pat: I started on Drums in 3rd grade in the Batavia Illinois Public schools and played them until I was about 21 years old. The last gig I had on drums was playing in Dixieland Band in college. I was in the school Band, Orchestra and Marching Band all through grade school until the end of High school. I started on guitar about 8th grade when my older brother got a Stratocaster and I started teaching myself to play. After high school, I went to Community college for one year because I wanted to get into the University of Illinois As a guitar major, but I needed to get better at reading music. I was a good reader on drums but I became more interested in guitar at the time. My teacher Dave Guzzardo at Waubonsee Community college helped me get into U of I. I studied classical guitar for 2 years at U of I. I also played in a Bluegrass band, the U of I Russian Folk Orchestra, The U of I Big band and a Dixieland band. I also studied 20th-century composition. I then transferred to William Paterson University in Wayne New Jersey after 2 years at U of I. At WPU I studied Jazz Guitar with Bucky Pizzarelli, Harry Leahey. After WPU at around age 26, I started teaching myself to play harmonica. I am still and will always be a student of music.

JGT: Who are you biggest influences? 

Pat: My biggest influences are too many to list. I have been influenced by most of the Bebop horn players of the 1950s. Also, as a younger person for guitarists, I was influenced by Johnny Winter, Rick Derringer, Chet Atkins, Joe Pass, Steve Morse, Muddy Waters, Neal Schon, Carlos Santana, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Larry Carlton, Robben Ford, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Eagles, Steely Dan to name a few. Since I moved to Nashville: Tommy Emmanuel, Jack Pearson, Hank Garland, Jerry Reed, and George Barnes. My guitar students are also my biggest influence.

JGT: What are you listening to today?

I am still listening to a lot to Bebop players for ideas and inspiration on how to navigate
chord changes. Sonny Rollins, Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, Sonny Stitt, Wynton Kelly, Oscar Peterson, and Cannonball Adderly are just a few of my favorites to learn from. Also, I’m a huge Errol Garner fan. I listen to mostly older soul, blues, R&B and Gospel for enjoyment.

JGT: What guitars, amps, and strings including gauges are you using?  Does it change depending on style?

 I have been using a VVT Jack Pearson Signature model amp for the last few years. It’s great. It has a 15” speaker. I am also playing a Pat Bergeson signature VVT amp. It is similar to the Jack Pearson except it has a 12” speaker. I use light ands medium gauge strings for acoustic and 009, 0095 and 010 gauge for electric and 011, 012 for Jazz guitars sometimes. Lately I am playing a 1968 ES330 , a 1968 ES335 and my Green Parts guitar Strat. I am using a Tommy Emmanuel Maton 808 Acoustic for live gigs and a Gibson J30 that Chet Atkins gave me.

JGT: What new music are you working on?

I am currently working on a new Record of original music. As working guitar player and harmonica player doing gigs and recording sessions for various people, what I am working on changes day to day. I also play in an organ trio so I am trying to learn new jazz repertoire.

JGT: What are your goals for your own playing?

 My goals for my own playing are to get better at solo fingerstyle guitar and to learn more repertoire. Most of the songs I play fingerstyle are originals. I did a record called “Country Gentleman a tribute to Chet Atkins” on Green Hill Records that features myself playing Chet tunes. And I also did a record called “Hippy dance” which features some fingerstyle originals and my harmonica playing. It is also always a goal to spend more time practicing

JGT: Do you see jazz gaining popularity in Nashville and/or around the country if/as you tour? 

I am not sure if I notice jazz gaining more popularity. I hope it is! I do have some students who are eaten up with it. Jazz is eternal and you can never stop learning new things about harmony and creating beautiful melodic lines. I have never been bored since I discovered how much I love to hear and learn how to play jazz and improvised music. It’s always great to see younger players fall in love with Jazz as I did.

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