Chuck Bergeron & South Florida Jazz Orchestra
Cheap Thrills The Music of Rick Margitza
Bassist/bandleader Chuck Bergeron celebrates the 15th anniversary of his South Florida Jazz Orchestra (SFJO) with the music of saxophone great Rick Margitza. The SFJO is one of the best unheralded big bands, very versatile and comprised of some of the best musicians in the Miami area, beneficiaries of the great Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. Any album that boasts Grammy winning trumpeters Brian Lynch and John Daversa as well as the practically legendary saxophonist Margitza should garner attention. Featuring eight original Margitza compositions and a sumptuous arrangement of a timeless standard, Cheap Thrills: The Music of Rick Margitza is a document that celebrates the lifelong friendship between Margitza and Bergeron, full of mutual admiration and engaging individuality.
In Margitza’s remarkable career, he has collaborated with Miles Davis, Maria Schneider, McCoy Tyner, and Chick Corea, among countless others. The saxophonist’s journey has led him from his beginnings near Detroit to studies at the University of Miami and formative years in New Orleans before a move to New York City led to a fruitful tenure on Blue Note Records. He’s spent most of the last 20 years in Paris, where he’s forged relationships with such European jazz greats as Martial Solal, Jean-Michel Pilc, and the Moutin Brothers.
Margitza and Bergeron have crossed path several times beginning in the bassist’s native New Orleans, where the saxophonist moved in 1984 for a gig at the World’s Fair. It was at Margitza’s urging that Bergeron applied to the University of Miami, where he pursued his graduate studies and has gone on to join the faculty. In between those two stints in Florida, the two both moved to New York, where they roomed and performed together. Bergeron also appears on Margitza’s first outing for Blue Note, two songs recorded for the 1989 compilation New Stars On Blue Note, which announced a bumper crop that included the saxophonist along with labelmates Dianne Reeves, Eliane Elias and the soon-to-be all-star ensemble OTB (Out of the Blue).
It seems only fitting that Bergeron would invite Margitza for the 15th anniversary of Bergeron’s South Florida Jazz Orchestra. As referenced, the band is comprised of many of the most exceptional players on the South Florida jazz scene, many Bergeron’s fellow faculty members at the University of Miami. The band itself is a 20-piece unit featuring noted reedist Ed Calle, Grammy-winning trumpeter John Daversa, pianist Martin Bejerano, guitarist John Hart, and drummer John Yarling. Several guests augment the unit including Margitza on all saxophone solos, Grammy-winning trumpeter Brian Lynch as soloist on “45 Pound Hound” and five other musicians. The various members share history and a love for big band playing. Modeling themselves on the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra (later known as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra), the SFJO undertook a residency at Miami’s now-defunct Arturo Sandoval Jazz Club, with the full support and occasional collaboration of its namesake trumpeter.
Margitza has also played with big bands, from his early opportunity touring with Maynard Ferguson to his years playing in the renowned Maria Schneider Orchestra. While Margitza initially thought that Bergeron would select just a few of his compositions, he was pleasantly surprised to learn that the entire album would feature his music. Some of the tunes take on additional meaning given the two men’s history. “Widow’s Walk,” (featuring Hart) for instance,” was one of the two songs documented for New Stars On Blue Note. “It’s one of the tunes that I most equate with him,” Bergeron says. “To me, it’s signature Margitza. We recorded it with a small band when he was first starting out, so it as very nostalgic and special to revisit it with him and my big band all these years later.”
The simmering “Brace Yourself” (featuring Hart and Yarling) is another early tune, originally recorded on Margitza’s Blue Note debut Color. “Sometimes I Have Rhythm” (featuring trumpeter Greg Gisbert) was previously rendered by the Motor City Jazz Octet, while “Walls” (featuring Bejerano) owes to the saxophonist’s 1991 date Hope. The album’s sole standard, “Embraceable You,” which also features the pianist, is simply a lifelong favorite, here arranged by Dan Gailey.
The album’s biggest challenge came via Margitza’s complex, nearly 10-minute composition “Premonition.” After rehearsals, Bergeron and producer John Fedchock had decided to divide the challenging piece into three sections to facilitate its rendering. As the band recorded, they reached the agreed-upon stopping point – and kept right on going, mastering the song, beginning to end, in a single take. Afterwards, there was complete silence in the room, until Fedchock’s voice whispered, “What did you think about that?” Bergeron’s voice bellowed in response: “I love this f-ing band!”
That last line says it all. This is the big, blaring kind of big band recording we long for going back to the ‘70s sound of Thad Jones and Mel Lewis and just edgy enough to evoke the big band efforts of trumpeters Charles Tolliver and Charles Sullivan during that same era. That’s not to say Margitza and SFJO sound at all dated. The similarity is in the power and impact.
- Jim Hynes
About the Artist – Chuck Bergeron
Born and raised in New Orleans, Chuck Bergeron has been an in-demand bassist for four decades. Chuck studied at Loyola University and the University of Miami before joining the bands of Woody Herman and Buddy Rich. After the breakup of the Buddy Rich Band, Chuck moved to New York and embarked upon a 15-year career as a bassist, performing, recording, and touring worldwide with a host of jazz luminaries, including Stan Getz, Dave Grusin, Randy Brecker, Sheila Jordan, Dee Bridgewater, John Abercrombie, Tom Harrell, James Moody, Matt Wilson, Terell Stafford, Stanley Jordan and Elvis Costello. As a leader, Chuck has released eight albums, four of them at the helm of the South Florida Jazz Orchestra. In 2000, he accepted a teaching position at the University of Miami and relocated to South Florida, where he currently runs the Jazz Bass Studio and serves as Director of the Jazz Pedagogy Program at UM’s Frost School of Music.