Erica Miller

Gene Bertoncini

Gene Bertoncini is without a doubt one of the finest of that small group of individuals that choose to play their jazz on a nylon string acoustic guitar in a style adapted from the arena of the classical technique. In my humble opinion there is no finer music than that of finger style jazz played well on a nylon string guitar. I guess that makes me biased though I try my best not to be. Gene was born in 1937 and grew up in a musical house in New York City where he began playing professionally at a very early age making first TV appearance at the age of 16. After graduating from Notre Dame with a degree in architecture Gene relocated to Chicago for a period of time playing in the jazz scene there before returning to New York City where he resides today. For 18 years he played at Bistro la Madeleine on Sunday and Monday nights in addition to a very busy touring and recording schedule. Currently he is playing a regular Monday night solo gig at Bar Henry (old Zinc Bar) 90 West Houston St. NYC 7:30 -10:30. Call or check ahead by internet to confirm that he will be there. (646) 448-4559 or www.barhenry.com

I first saw Gene Bertoncini play many years ago with Bucky, Frank Vignola and Howard Alden in a performance presented by the Connecticut Guitar Society and billed as "The Legends of Jazz". At that point I was a staunch classically trained guitarist and this jazz guitar stuff was alright and flashy but it wasn't classical. So I remained relatively unimpressed although this young Frank kid up there was making some amazing sounds that definitely caught my attention, but that's another story. As far as I was concerned jazz was ok but it wasn't really my cup of tea. A few years later, however, I had the opportunity to see Gene at another Guitar Society event, the "Summer Jazz Series", where I watched him perform solo with David Fincke on upright bass in a small club setting and suddenly, like magic, I was sold on this jazz guitar stuff. I was immediately enamored with the guitar-bass duo, especially when set behind a good vocalist. This is where the initial spark of the idea for the overall project was struck. I had wanted to produce some sort of musical work for the experience and this simple format that did not need a lot of extraneous production was just the thing I was looking for. I wanted the project to be simple yet sublime which remained my goal throughout the production phase. Simply stated Gene Bertoncini was a big inspiration for this project without knowing it. So I thank him here and now.

Gene presented a special challenge for Rickie. She was completely new to the jazz genre at the time and felt like a fish out of water the first couple of takes. She had practiced "Summertime" straight as I had asked her to and was simply not prepared for the stylings that Gene was putting around her. She'd never heard anything like it before. True to her nature and even though she was secretly "freaking out" without telling anybody she got the timing straightened out in short order and between them they produced what I think is one of the finest takes on "Summertime" I have ever heard. This was the first session of what would later become known as "Italian Day" at Bennett Studios. We had myself, Frank, Bucky, Gene, Vinny and Dae all in there at the same time at one point. We made Rickie and Johnnie Truesdale both honorary Italians for the day just to round things out. I felt like I should have brought up a big pot of pasta and meatballs being the host and all. Vinny liked that idea too. Maybe next time.

Probably the most memorable moment with Gene in the studio was, once the tune had started to come together, his comment to me over a break, "I love this. Can we do this all day?" I wished we could and, like then, I would still love to get him back in for a solo project with her. Their take on "Summertime" itself presented a little bit of a problem for me as well. How on earth was I going to make it fit? Frank Vignola likened it to an abstract painting which is a very concise analogy. My solution was to use the extreme contrast created by moving from the innovative hot electric guitar of Jeff Pevar into the equally innovative hot acoustic guitar of Gene Bertoncini. At this point in the album we move away from the electrics and into the acoustics for awhile.

Some of the notables Gene has performed with are Benny Goodman, Buddy Rich, Tony Bennett, Lena Horne, Edye Gorme and the Tonight Show Band.

He continues to teach at Eastman School of Music and William Patterson University as well as clinics all over the world.

For further information on Gene and his upcoming performance schedule please go to:

Gene Bertoncini website

Gene Bertoncini: Concerti
Gene Bertoncini: Quiet Now
Gene Bertoncini: Body and Soul
footer banner